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How to Talk About Change Without Throwing Your Employees Under the Bus

Are you planning for or currently managing changes in your organization? Are you looking for better human capital solutions? If you’re not now, then chances are you will be soon. Change is a fact of life and a fact of work. Ongoing changes require intentional communication strategies to keep everyone on the team moving in the same direction.

The bad news is that it’s easy to gloss over the need for effective communication and expect employees to buck up and follow along. That would be a disastrous approach. But the good news is that most change initiatives can succeed—if you know how to approach them.

How Bad Communication Creates Confusion, Frustration, and Resistance

Change is universally scary. People envision all the possible things that could go wrong—whether you’ll lose your job, how work will be harder or more demanding, and whether you’ll be able to reach those lofty goals being laid out in the PowerPoint. Poor communication makes all of those fears worse. Here are a few ways managers communicate badly:

  • Waiting Too Long—If you wait until all the decisions have been made and every “t” has been crossed, you have already missed your best chance to bring people on board. When rumors are flying, it’s too late to combat negative perceptions.
  • Giving Incorrect Information—If you’re communicating early in the process (and you should be), there may be questions to which you don’t yet know the answers. Be honest about that. It’s better to say you don’t know than to give out bad information.
  • Making Communication a One-Way Street—Communication goes both ways. It’s a conversation. If you give a presentation and then beat a hasty retreat or act defensive in the face of questions, you haven’t effectively communicated.

Tell People What They Need to Know, When They Need to Know It

The most effective way to manage change is to keep people in the loop. By “need to know,” we don’t mean hoarding information as long as possible and dribbling out details as infrequently as possible. We mean telling people what they need to know when they need to know it so they will feel confident about the changes.

Let’s look at six ways to do that.

  1. Develop a written communication plan. A written plan helps all managers follow the same communication strategy. Your plan should lay out the how, when, who, what, and why of communication within your team.
  2. Communicate consistently, frequently, and quickly. Shut down the rumor mill by passing information on to your team members as soon as it becomes available to you. This gives people plenty of time to ask questions. However, it also means that some of the details may change, so make that clear at the outset.
  3. Use multiple channels. Communicate the change using as many venues as possible: formal presentations, your company intranet, email, team meetings, focus groups, bulletin boards, mobile messaging, and any others available to you. Different people access information in different ways, so make sure everyone has a chance to hear about the change from you first-hand (even if they missed the team meeting).
  4. Give plenty of time for feedback and questions. Encourage employee involvement by taking questions and feedback seriously. Tell them how their daily operations will be affected and how performance expectations will change. The more involved employees feel, the more committed they will be.
  5. Communicate the “why” as well as the “what.” Communicate the business reasons for the change. What are the goals and context? What is the driving purpose? Who is supporting and promoting the change?
  6. Discuss success metrics. Success metrics tell you whether or not you have reached your goal. Let employees know what you want to achieve and how you plan to hold them accountable for their roles.

Above all, managers should listen to the responses coming from team members and communicate intentionally. There will always be people who don’t like change, but managers can do a lot to grease the wheels of progress before the initiative grinds to a halt.

Listen for confusion and frustration: Do employees view changes negatively? Do they have the correct details? What are their concerns? The answers to these questions will tell you whether you have communicated the right information in the right way—and how you need to change your strategy moving forward.New call-to-action