The following article was written by Fresh Communications for the March 2017 issue of the Change Management Institute’s newsletter. It is the first in a series about communicating change.
The way you communicate at the start of a change initiative will either build or break trust and can have a significant impact on stakeholder engagement, contribution, and collaboration throughout the process.
I have overseen communications for corporate restructurings, IT change projects, rebranding initiatives and the amalgamation of organizations, and I have found that the following steps go a long way toward building a strong foundation for change. They aren’t new or revolutionary, but sometimes, in the push to get projects started and adhere to accelerated timelines, they are overlooked or undervalued.
Demonstrate leadership commitment
When a significant announcement is being made, employees want to hear from leaders. Leaders play an important role in setting the tone and communicating the value of the initiative to the organization. They should be involved at the outset and at key points in the process. Their interactions with employees should weave the “golden thread” that connects the work of teams and individuals to the bigger picture.
Talk to managers first
When managers feel blindsided or disadvantaged by a lack of information, they can seriously, and understandably, derail an initiative. Without the opportunity to absorb the information and understand the decisions themselves, they won’t feel equipped to support their teams. Managers should be informed first, so they have the opportunity to ask questions, understand their role in the process, and find out how they will be supported throughout the project.
Communicate early and often and be inclusive
It’s important to announce the change to the entire organization. Even employees who aren’t affected should be aware of what’s going on around them. Not only to address their concerns and questions but also so they can support others who will be affected. Be straightforward. Address the questions that you can and acknowledge the ones that you can’t answer. Tell employees when you will provide the answers and how you will keep them updated. Explain that information will be shared based on specific needs and level of involvement in the project. And, keep your promises.
There is no foolproof way to ensure everyone will feel equally happy about and open to every change that is made. However, taking the time to think about the people involved, what they need to hear, how they need to hear it and from whom, at the earliest stages of the project, will go a long way toward building trust, easing fears and creating a sense of inclusion and engagement.