Change is the only constant so communication is key

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More often than not, change within a business is met with uncertainty, confusion and resistance. But in a world in which change is the only constant, it makes sense that shifts in the strategy, structure or processes of any organisation are a prerequisite for its success. Here Ellen Widdup looks at why it is paramount that leaders take a disciplined approach to communicating change within a company.

The key to managing change within a business is to work out exactly who is affected and then devise an appropriate strategy to best manage the fallout.

Your employees, suppliers and customers may need handling differently but ultimately the goal is the same: to create an understanding and acceptance of the change.
According to the Communication ROI Study 2010 by Towers Watson, companies that communicate with courage, innovation and discipline, especially during times of challenge and change, are more effective at engaging employees and achieving desired business results.
So how do you go about building a disciplined communications approach when your company is in the middle of an upheaval?

Here are a few things to consider:

What’s in it for me?
There is an acronym in change management circles called WIIFM and it stands for “What’s In It For Me?”
This is a helpful way to look at how you are communicating change to your stakeholders.
Remember, if the change is going to affect people, they need to know how and they should be able to identify challenges and opportunities.
But, more importantly they need to understand why it is necessary in the first place.

Explaining the “Why”
A compelling case for change should be grounded in the marketplace and competitive landscape but business leaders should not assume staff understand this.
Explaining what is driving the new business strategy in a clear and concise way can actually encourage higher levels of commitment and engagement within the team.

Take the lead
You can be proactive in your change communications plan by making sure people at the top understand what information is being passed down the chain.
Key messages should be formulated from the outset.

Here are our top tips for implementing a disciplined communicating change within your organisation:

1. Adapt
During organisational change it is important to customise and target messages to meet the needs of the different employee groups within your business.
Tip: Look at all affected stakeholders and divide them into groups before attempting to communicate.

2. Act fast
Act quickly before the rumour mill starts churning. Effective message cut-through is key. Make sure your staff hear about changes at the same time that you advise the market or the media. Ill-feeling will breed if staff feel they are finding out last.
Tip: Hold staff meetings when new information is released and make sure everyone is informed.

3. Listen
Implement feedback sessions and listen to what is being said. Your staff are the frontline of your business and they may have ideas or suggestions about how to pass the changes through to the customer with the least upset.
Tip: Try regularly surveying your staff and target surveys to specific groups of staff. If anonymous you might get a more honest response, particularly from resistance groups.

4. Stamp out rumours
By communicating openly and honestly and being available for questions or concerns, you can avoid employees passing on rumours.
Tip: If a rumour surfaces, don’t ignore it. Confirm or correct it as soon as possible.

5. Use feedback
It’s all very well initiating feedback, but once you have received it, don’t ignore it.
Tip: Try dedicating a section of your internal newsletter to feedback, perhaps by posting a person’s comments anonymously and then supplying you’re your response to them.

6. Talk
Far too much communication is done online these days and while email is a useful tool, it can’t beat face-to-face briefings. Remember to always be consistent.
Tip: During times of change it might be difficult to get everyone together at the same time. Try providing alternative options for times and venues and monitor which employees are attending which sessions.

7. Tackle resistance
Engage with resistance - don’t seek to overcome it. Resistance is normal, highly complex, and, at the end of the day, is only a form of feedback.
Tip: Try to understand staff concerns and work with them to find solutions and build trust. Don’t forget to communicate what is staying the same to help reduce anxiety.

8. Celebrate new beginnings
Change does not need to be unsettling. It can be something to celebrate. Tip: If the news is good news, then make sure you are passing on that excitement. Throw a launch party, reward staff, offer incentives or encourage them to tell their own stories about how the changes are working for them.

If you would like more advice on change communications, please give us a call.

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