Communication strategies for managing organizational change
Organizational change can be challenging, especially for those of us who enjoy our familiar workplace roles and routines. While change is constant and brings with it progress, a certain amount of unease is a common reaction to proposed change. Most people just aren’t comfortable in the grey zone.
Given the ongoing rapidity of technological change, increased globalization, growing international competition, and a movement away from static employment roles and permanent jobs, one thing seems certain – organizations need to be adaptive, and leaders need to support their people in getting comfortable with transitions and change at work.
So how can business leaders facilitate organizational change?
To discuss effective communication strategies during times of change, I recently spoke with Barbara Gobis, M. Sc., director of the University of British Columbia’s Pharmacists Clinic.
Ms. Gobis specializes in developing, implementing and managing large-scale change initiatives. She is also a PCC-level credentialed coach with the International Coaching Federation and an organizational coach at UBC.
We discussed six principles to consider as you prepare for change and shape your communication strategy:
You need a strong foundation before you consider implementing a change: “Make sure that your organization has a strong foundation and a healthy culture of trust and respect. You’re going to need a well-functioning team, supported by disciplined managers and leaders, to move an organization through change. The constants, such as your skilled leaders, your corporate values, guiding principals and mission, should be in place to provide stability, comfort, and control,” says Ms. Gobis.
No matter how well planned the change, issues and discomforts will arise, but a strong foundation will make the transition much smoother. “The truth is, the best leader in the world parachuting into a dysfunctional organization will not be able to effect a successful change.”
Know why and how at the outset: Know where you are, where you want to go, and what it’s going to look like when you get there. Why are you making this change? What’s your vision? What are the desired outcomes? Build vision alignment with your leaders and managers.
At this point, you are (a) developing a path of actions and steps (the tasks) and (b) developing a vision of what the change is going to look like (the outcomes). Then create a framework for clear and consistent communication that includes both tasks and outcomes.
Listen and support: Organizational change requires a humanistic approach. It’s not about data or devices; organizations are made up of humans, and humans need information and support.
“It’s important to acknowledge that some people will be more, and some less, comfortable. Your team members should have the ability to say how they feel and what their needs are during a time of transition. Skilled leaders will create an inventory of the needs of their people,” confirms Ms. Gobis. Supported, engaged, and listened-to employees will adapt, transition, and thrive earlier and faster.
Team engagement: Involve your people in the organizational change goals, processes, and tools. Involvement leads to commitment.
“Old methodologies and expectations, where leaders dictated change and employees were to unquestioningly believe, trust, and follow, are no longer effective. Your people are there to contribute, grow, and develop. Your job as a leader is in service to the people you lead; enable them to succeed,” Ms. Gobis notes. If your team is engaged and successful, then the organization is successful.
Communicate often: When things are uncertain, there needs to be regular, clear, frequent communication. Foster a community of change with open and honest communication as the cornerstone.
Communicate often, authentically and with integrity. As Ms. Gobis mentions, “Don’t leave people to speculate. If there is a lack of clarity or information, people will fill in the gaps with assumptions—and those assumptions are typically the worst case scenarios.” Moreover, employee engagement and morale will plummet.
Update and communicate with your team every step of the way.
Include multi-way, organization-wide dialogue.
Use a variety of communication tools and methods (video, intranet, employee apps, one-on-ones, speaking, small group meetings, etc.) tailored to the different audiences and stakeholders in your organization.
Involve the early adopters (your champions of change - those who are comfortable with change and pivot most readily). Key messages from these early champions can make it easier for others to more confidently jump on board.
As you move forward, monitor progress, analyse feedback, shape and continue the dialogue. It’s likely that your communication channels and messages will evolve through the course of your transformation. To some extent it’s an iterative process. Allow flexibility.
For me, this quote from Louis V. Gerstner Jr., former head of IBM, sums it up nicely: “ It’s about communication. It’s about honesty. It’s about treating people in the organization as deserving to know the facts. … You treat them as true equals, and you communicate, and you communicate, and communicate.”
What are your strategies for change communication?