Communication is critical in change management

Kim Woods
Kim Woods | April 07, 2021
Transformation
Communication is critical in change management

One of the biggest ways that you can reduce uncertainty, aid employees in the sense making process, and ultimately lead to more engagement, is to communicate. Change is truly one of those times when it is impossible to over communicate.

As one of the largest concerns for employees is understandably their continuation of employment, communicating early and clearly about job security is paramount. Previous research in change management suggests that job uncertainty is linked to higher levels of employee stress and strain, reduced job satisfaction / commitment, and an increased desire to quit (Pollard, 2001; Terry & Jimmieson, 2003).

What’s more, if you are not leading the narrative, someone else is likely to fill the void. As soon as you have under-communicated, or failed to pick up on a topic that is important to your employees, you risk a counter narrative circulating around the water cooler (or at the bar after work).

Don’t be caught off-guard by the organizational rumor-mill! A regular, two-way form of communication that stresses openness and transparency stops this from happening, creates certainty for your employees, and helps everyone to obtain the right information. Ultimately you need to have a centrally controlled, single-source of truth, while encouraging constructive conversations around the organization - a tricky balance to get right! One which we will address shortly, but first...

Better the ‘devil’ you know

Let’s say we have failed to communicate on something important. Or that employees are dissatisfied with a part of our change plan. What then? How can we get them to see the bigger picture? Do we need to deal with change resistors and dissenters on an individual basis? Should there be ‘sticks and carrots’ to punish or incentivize behaviors? How we should approach employee engagement with change, once the change is underway?

Overall, as with other things in life, it is better to know than not know. It is better to hear and address dissenting opinions, and have it out in a fair contest of ideas, than to leave things in the shadows. If dissent is not being raised to the organization directly, it is likely still going on, but just in the form of gossip and circulated rumors and hearsay. Particularly if you’re a leader in a large organization, you’re separated by large distances (structurally, geographically and in seniority) from most of the people being impacted. Just because you aren’t hearing about disagreements, doesn’t mean the concerns aren’t there.

When dissent happens in hushed tones and behind closed doors, it can circulate for much longer, and take on an even larger life than had it been able to be addressed through appropriate and timely comms.

This is why many organizations opt for an "all questions welcome" approach, with the CEO addressing these publicly in some form. However the downside of this is that you likely won’t hear from everyone, and even then it can be hard to get an overall pulse check of the organization, right when it is most important! A platform like Joyous offers one solution in this area, which is to use technology to empower multiple conversations simultaneously across the organization.

Whatever you do, ensure you have some way of encouraging staff to speak up, rather than speaking in the shadows. Rumors can take hold quickly and start to gain steam simply because 1. People are very vested in trying to gain knowledge during times of change to reduce uncertainty. And 2. People pay more attention to potential bad news, than to potentially good news. This is how bad news can take over, causing undue change dissent.

Change dissent is an opportunity to turn doubters into supporters: if everyone embraces it.

References

Pollard, T. M. (2001). Changes in mental well-being, blood pressure and total cholesterol levels during workplace reorganization: the impact of uncertainty. Work & stress, 15(1), 14-28.

Terry, D. J., & Jimmieson, N. L. (2003). A stress and coping approach to organizational change: Evidence from three field studies. Australian Psychologist,38(2), 92-101.