7 Best Practices in Change Management Communication
Change is an important aspect of any evolving company, B all changes, big and small, are likely to face obstacles during their implementation.
You may be excited to automate sales execution using Salesforce, for example, as you strongly believe it will streamline your sales process.
But how can you get your employees to share your enthusiasm? It all boils down to communication. When implementing change, companies often focus too much on logistics and not enough on communication.
Change management has to be understood and supported in order for it to be successful – without great change management communication, the change is destined to fail.
What are the best tips for change communication in 2023?
- Communicate clearly, early, and often
- Communicate through the right people
- Communicate through multiple channels
- Answer the questions, “what’s in it for me?” and “what does it mean to me?”
- Prepare for resistance
- Listen to feedback
- Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
Why Do You Need Effective Change Management Communication?
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change,” said novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.
Shelley did not intend for this quote to refer to organizational change, but anyone who has tried to implement a change on their employees would agree that it applies.
A staggering 70% of all changes attempted in organizations fail. If you want to be in the successful 30%, you need a change management communication plan because the people affected by the change are ultimately the ones responsible for making and sustaining it.
Managing conversations about change is challenging. Emotional reactions and resistance to change are frustrating, but you cannot simply order people to be enthusiastic about a change. Change adoption depends on the cooperation of those affected by it, and you can only get people on board when they understand the purpose of the change.
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8 Effective Channels to Communicate Change in the Workplace
The best communication channel for announcing a change depends on the type of change project. You should consider the following questions, which will help you choose the appropriate medium to announce the change:
- Is it a customer or employee-facing change?
- Is it exciting (like an acquisition or funding announcement), or is it somber (like layoffs).
- Will it impact the entire organization or only certain teams?
Here are a few most common and effective change communication challenges to consider:
1. Team meeting
For change announcements that will impact a specific team, call a team meeting. Employees will feel more comfortable with it being face-to-face, and they’ll have the opportunity to ask questions.
Examples of change announcements to make in team meetings include:
- Migrating to a new system.
- Introducing a new team manager.
- Announcing a restructure of the team.
2. 1-1 meetings
If the change will not impact an entire time, but will impact certain team members, use your 1-1 time to go over the change. This will allow your individual employees to have dedicated time to react and respond to the change announcement.
Email communication remains one of the most professional and direct methods of communication within an enterprise. It is best suited for formal announcements of significant company policy, leadership, or strategic direction changes. It allows the sender to craft the message and present complex ideas clearly and carefully. An employee-facing change announcement best suited for email would be news of a new CEO or significant restructuring within the organization.
For customers, changes like pricing modifications, terms of service updates, or the introduction of a new product line could be communicated via email. Emails can be personalized, scheduled, tracked, and receiving feedback or questions directly from the recipients is possible.
With a DAP like Whatfix, organizations are empowered with the tools to make in-app announcements, guide users with in-app flows and tours, and provide self-help user support.
4. Slack, MS Teams, or other internal communication tool
Slack, MS Teams, and other internal communication tools provides a more informal, instantaneous medium for communication. It is best suited for minor, quick updates or reminders and for fostering discussion. For example, a team manager might announce a shift in project direction or adjust deadlines.
Slack is great for keeping the team in the loop about ongoing changes in real time, especially if the change is iterative or collaborative. It’s less suitable for customer-facing communications unless the customers are part of a Slack channel or workspace for a more collaborative or ongoing relationship.
Your company intranet is a valuable communication tool for change announcements that require detailed explanations or reference materials, such as updated policy documents or new training materials. A great example of an employee-facing change announcement would be the roll-out of a new software system or changes to HR policies.
Intranet pages can host a variety of content types like videos, PDFs, FAQs, and more – and can be updated regularly as the change progresses. Customer-facing announcements are less common on intranets as they are generally internal tools.
6. Company town hall or all-hands
These meetings are an excellent opportunity to communicate significant company changes that affect the entire organization or involve strategic shifts. Leaders can present the change, explain its reasoning, and discuss its implications. Employee-facing examples include merger announcements, financial updates, or unveiling a new company vision or mission statement. This setting allows for two-way communication and immediate Q&A. It isn’t typically customer-facing, but specific changes, like company-wide sustainability commitments, can be shared externally after the internal meeting.
7. Video recording
Video announcements combine the advantages of both visual and audio communication, making it easier to deliver complex messages. They are best for changes requiring a detailed walkthrough or demonstration or when the company wants a more personal, humanized message.
An example would be a step-by-step guide to a new software tool for employees. For customer-facing changes, this medium is perfect for introducing a new product, demonstrating how it works, or even explaining modifications to your website or app interface.
Events are great for celebrating milestones or launching significant changes or innovations, bringing a sense of spectacle and engagement to the announcement.
For employees, this could be a launch party for a new product or office opening.
For customers, a major product launch event or user conference would be an ideal way to announce and demonstrate changes, particularly for companies with a large public following. Events can generate buzz and allow for direct interaction between the company and its stakeholders.
7 Best Practices For Effective Change Management Communication
Here are seven tips to effectively manage communication with your entire workforce during change projects:
1. Communicate clearly, early, and often
Remember, sudden change is jarring, so be specific right from the start. Don’t make your employees dig for details; offer them early and often:
- Who is going to be affected by the change and who will be responsible for carrying it out?
- What is the change?
- Where will the change happen? This could apply to a physical location, such as a change that only affects certain office branches, or it could apply to a specific process being moved, such as switching online meetings from one platform to another.
- When will the change take effect?
- Why is the change needed?
Instead of saying “effective next month, we will manage all sales through Salesforce,” say, “starting March 3, we will begin shifting sales efforts from legacy systems into Salesforce. The sales team will transition all sales-related tasks into Salesforce by May 1. Managing sales within Salesforce will allow us to automate redundant tasks and better manage customer relations.
The latter answers the who (sales team), what (switching sales tasks to Salesforce), where (from legacy systems into Salesforce), when (by May 1), and why (to automate tasks and manage customer relations). People are less likely to feel ambushed by a change announcement if you give them detailed information right away.
Providing details is crucial, and details are best delivered by people who are fully informed and on board with the change.
2. Communicate through the right people
Employees generally want to hear about change through the changemaker and their direct supervisor. Thorough change management communication requires preparing multiple people within your organization to be advocates for change, which includes managers and supervisors who will be communicating with their respective teams.
The desire for change has to trickle down so that each level of management and each department has someone communicating directly with those affected.
The Maurer 3 Levels of Resistance model of change states that change will face three levels of resistance, one of which is “I don’t like you.” If employees do not trust the person communicating the change, they will fight it. You should always be working to build trust in the workplace, but it’s especially important during a change.
When organizational change happens, the changemakers will understand the why behind the change, but a Towers Watson study shows that only 68% of senior managers will know why the change is necessary, and the numbers continue to drop off from there.
If the purpose of the change isn’t fully explained to managers and supervisors, they can’t approach a conversation about the change with confidence, and employees won’t put their trust in someone who is shaky on the details. Educating managers and supervisors about the change is crucial. Management should not only understand the details of why the change is needed and how it will be implemented but also how it will affect their employees specifically.
3. Communicate through multiple channels
Don’t rely on one medium to talk about a new change. Everyone has different communication styles and preferences — it’s important to reach people through the channels they respond to best. Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses.
- In-person meetings and presentations — It’s helpful to allow for immediate questions, but we’ve all seen employees’ eyes glaze over during a meeting that’s scheduled too close to lunch – so be ready to reiterate what’s happening through other mediums.
- Email and newsletters — Email is great for giving the highlights, but when people are trying clear their inbox, they’ll skim over details, making them unlikely to fully understand or support the change.
- Videos and blogs — Ongoing communication through explainer videos, in-depth blogs, and collaborative tools ensures that employees have plenty of chances to learn about the change and ask questions.
- Collaborative tools such as Slack and forums — Consider setting up a Slack channel or internal forum dedicated to the change. You can regularly post articles and videos that guide employees through the particulars of the change, while also allowing them to engage in a conversation about it.
Using a variety of channels also increases exposure to the information, and better coverage leads to better comprehension. All changes will be met with questions, so anticipate them and be prepared with responses.
4. Answer the questions, “what’s in it for me?” and “what does it mean to me?”
Appeal to people’s individual concerns by answering the questions, “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and “what does it mean to me?” (WDIMTM). Customize communication-based off on each employee’s or team’s level of involvement in the change and how they will be impacted.
Let’s say you’re switching payroll from weekly processing to biweekly. It’s going to affect everyone within the organization, but accounting will be impacted much more than other departments, so you’ll need to communicate with each department differently.
In this example, processing payroll weekly put too much strain on the accounting department and often resulted in payroll being released late. For accounting, the WIIFM is that they have more time to process payroll, so they can release payroll on a regular schedule.
For every other department, the WIIFM is that they will always know when to expect their paychecks and won’t have to waste time following up with accounting.
The impact on each department is different as well. The WDIMTM for accounting is that they will need to change their payroll process, so the transition will require more effort on their part than the other departments, whose WDIMTM is simply that they will have to adjust to getting paid biweekly instead of weekly.
This is an example of the right person needing to communicate the change. Obviously, accounting is going to want to hear from someone who understands their day-to-day duties and can speak to the specifics of the change as it applies to their department. When that person is prepared with answers to WIIFM and WDIMTM, they are showing employees that the change is being made with them in mind.
Of course, even when you have considered how the change will affect different areas of your organization, upsetting the status quo is always rough.
5. Prepare for resistance
No matter how justified the change might be, people are bound to resist. The Kübler-Ross Change Curve, based on the five stages of grief, acknowledges that people affected by the change are likely to have emotional reactions to it.
They may move through the denial, grief, bargaining, and depression stages several times before landing on acceptance. Preparing for emotional reactions allows you to communicate with empathy.
Before announcing a change, map out potential objections and prepare responses to them. If you plan to switch email from Outlook to Front, employees will likely object to learning a new tool. Managers might complain that it will take too much time for them to learn the new software and train their employees on it as well.
If you simply announce the change, employees could be in denial that it will actually happen and put no effort into making the switch.
Managers may try to bargain their way out of it, swearing that it would be more efficient to stick with Outlook. As people work their way through their emotional reactions, you need to be ready to guide them.
Your prepared response might be that the transition will happen gradually over the course of two months and that training and ongoing support will be provided through digital adoption solutions such as in-app training. Show your employees that you have a plan. If you introduce the change alongside a demo of Whatfix walkthroughs that guide each user through the new features in Front, employees won’t feel as overwhelmed.
You can combat denial and grief with additional resources that show your team the benefits of Front versus Outlook and shut down bargaining with firm but empathetic responses that back up your decision to change. Lift employees out of the depression stage by celebrating small wins, such as showing off how Front’s segmented inboxes allow everyone to achieve inbox 0 faster.
Even the smallest changes will be met with resistance. Communicating with compassion and understanding will help you move past it.
6. Listen to feedback
Change management communication needs to flow both ways. You may believe you’ve designed the greatest change implementation process of all time, but if you aren’t listening to the people whom the change affects, you’ve already failed.
Poor change management communication won’t just negatively affect the change process; it’s likely to spread to other areas of the business. Change is stressful. When employees are stressed out, their ability to process information is reduced by 80%.
That’s a huge drop. Stressed-out employees struggle to recall information. They also tend to get defensive and feel threatened by change. Communication is critical. If you don’t talk to your team, productivity and morale will suffer.
It’s possible to remain firm in your decision to change while still allowing those affected by the change to weigh in on how it will be implemented. Use any one of these communication channels to gather feedback:
- Meetings, particularly in smaller groups so that you can answer WIIFM and WDIMTM
- Online chats or forums, encouraging group discussions to address common concerns
- Surveys during the transition, checking on reactions to the change throughout the process
Keeping a pulse on the progress of acceptance (or lack thereof) using surveys will help you identify potential roadblocks early on. You may also discover that your employees have some innovative ideas for change management by reading online chats or forums.
Allowing your employees to influence the change process is a great way to increase enthusiasm and commitment to the change. Be open to altering your initial implementation change management plan based on the feedback you receive. Remember, the same destination can often be reached via multiple routes.
Keep in mind that conversations about the change may need to happen several times – when it comes to change management, repetition is not a bad thing.
7. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
Repetition is an essential aspect of change management communication. You may have been planning this change for some time, but it is new to everyone else. Employees will need to hear about the change many times and in many ways in order to fully understand and support it.
Consider the classic marketing ‘rule of seven’ – people need to hear your message at least seven times before they’ll consider taking action; change implementation is no different.
When change is first announced, people are preoccupied with how it will affect them personally and don’t focus on the details. Their minds are clouded by emotional reactions and initial resistance to change, making it difficult for them to understand the purpose.
When you repeat your message, you give employees more opportunities to learn about the why behind the change and help them understand how it will happen. Repetition gives you the space to put all of the aforementioned communication strategies into practice.
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Communication with those affected by a new change is necessary to encourage understanding and acceptance. Have a change management communication plan in place before rolling out any initiative. Know how you will announce and support the change and be ready to solidify it with tools, such as Whatfix for change management and Slack channels for ongoing discussions. You should be prepared to give clear explanations of how the change will benefit those affected and also be open to feedback throughout the process.
A successful change management communication strategy can be the difference between “great and sudden change” and great and sustainable change, so communicate early, often, and effectively.
Need help implementing change? Whatfix Digital Adoption Platform enables training and line of business managers to make change programs stick by providing users with contextual, interactive and real-time digital guidance on the transition from “as-is” to “to-be” processes and application states.
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