Change isn’t easy.
And effectively helping your whole organization navigate change is a whole other beast.
It’s hard to communicate a new course for your organization. You’re in uncharted waters and often you can barely see five feet in front of you. It’s difficult to know which way to go or what the best route may be.
At one career point or another, you've most likely had a crash course in change communication. You’ve had to step up and lead through some truly choppy waters where the direction was unclear and often there was no final destination in sight.
And whether or not you’re ready, you’re going to have to get comfortable communicating change to your organization, because it’s not going anywhere.
It’s a skill that requires hard work. You’ll have to steer through emotional reactions, quick pivots as situations evolve, and ongoing crisis management.
Unfortunately, you can’t just rally the troops, yell “This is changing!”, and call it a day.
Once mastered though, change communication will have a significant impact on your employees’ experience and your organization as a whole.
And it will only strengthen you as a critical thinker and communicator. You’ll be able to say that you weathered these challenging times strategically and empathetically.
Here are the 4 things you need to do to navigate change communication:
1. Consider the psychology behind change
It takes a lot of work to make sure everyone in your organization is on the same page. But before you draft your change communication strategy, it’s important to take a step back.
If you’re not thinking about what motivates people to change or why people behave the way they do in order to change it, a lot of that work is likely to go to waste.
So in order to communicate about change effectively, you need to take time to understand the psychological side of change.
When we spoke with Andrea Greenhous, Founder of Vision2Voice, she encouraged internal communicators struggling to communicate change to think deeply about how humans actually experience change:
You can’t just communicate around change. You have to understand how humans work and you have to think about the behavior you want to change.”
Erika Migliaccio, Founder and Principal Consultant at Upstream HR Strategies, told us why emotion plays such a big factor in changing behavior:
Human beings make decisions based on emotion. Neuroscience will tell you that people actually make their decisions based on emotion first and then they'll back up and line up the facts in their brain to support the decision they already made.”
So how do you tell where your employees are emotionally?
Erika recommended taking an empathetic approach. She showed us the Kübler-Ross Change Model, which charts the emotional ups-and-downs of going through change.
One of the most important things we can do right now is recognize that every single human being is somewhere on this curve, and they're probably in a different place than you. We can also recognize that people move all over this curve.Erika Migliaccio, Principal Consultant, Upstream HR Strategies
So understanding this, asking how people are feeling, placing them on the curve, and then tailoring your communications can be really, really impactful.”
With this insight, you’ll be able to draft authentic messaging that will resonate with where people are at emotionally.
And, on a larger scale, you’ll also have the opportunity to influence your company culture.
2. Reinforce a culture of empathy and trust
When change is all around you, it’s important to have something constant—like your company’s values—that you can use as a compass. Your organization’s values help leaders make good decisions and stay focused, while reassuring employees.
But with added stress and uncertainty, it can be hard to walk the talk.
When your organization is strapped for time and resources, and there’s more pressure than ever to execute a strategy flawlessly, there isn’t always time to re-center and focus on values.
So how do you make sure your company culture stays intact through change?
Start with empathetic communication.
Phoebe Dey, Vice-President of Communications and Marketing at Alberta Cancer Foundation, mentioned that her company’s values have been her north star while communicating change:
While the content has changed a little bit and our audiences have changed a little bit, our principles and values haven't changed at all. We still come from a place of being caring and empathetic."
Lead conversations and communications with humanity, and you’ll reinforce a culture of empathy and trust.
Priya Bates, ABC, MC, SCMP, and president of Inner Strength Communication, echoed Phoebe, stressing that context and empathy are key to change communication:
I think we're doing a pretty good job providing the content, the facts, what's happening in your location. But we're not actually telling people why we're making the decisions we're making. We're so focused on telling them the stuff and checking the box and saying ‘we did it’, we're not providing humanity.
[How are we communicating] the context, the caring, and the reasons why we're making tough decisions?”
Kim Clark, employee communications coach and D&I expert, championed that human-centric communication needs to be the status quo in all organizations:
We can reinvent a healthier way of communicating. We have to stick with empathy, trust, transparency, human-centric communication. And you've been saying this all along as communicators. Leaders are seeing it. You’ve got to keep it going. And that's got to be your status quo moving forward.”
That’s right. Communicators have the power to transform the corporate status quo.
When you put people first, you build trust in your communications—from employees to leadership. And that makes communicating change easier and more effective.
3. Involve your employees in the change process.
Strategic communicators know that understanding all employees, from leadership to frontline workers, is essential to communicating effectively and aligning them with the organization.
The trick to understanding people is listening to them.
When you truly listen and involve employees, you’ll uncover insights that will help leadership make more nuanced and better decisions, and you’ll make your colleagues feel valued and heard in the change process.
We have a role which is to be the sense-maker and help our leaders work through what this [change] actually means for people.”
So what does this change mean for your people?
Andrea encouraged communicators to engage their colleagues in the conversation around change—after all, they were hired for a reason:
Instead of doing change to people, involve them in the change. And I always say, it drives me crazy, you spend all this time hiring these super intelligent people… and then you don’t listen to them. What’s with that?Andrea Greenhous, Founder of Vision2Voice
So harness all those smart people and make them feel valued and have their input and ideas heard. And then change will be so much easier because they’ll have been brought into what’s going on.”
Involving employees not only makes change easier, but it also helps you build a better change communication strategy.
Angela Sinickas, ABC, CEO of Sinickas Communications, Inc., recommended that internal communicators meet with a virtual focus group to get a deeper sense of how employees are feeling—and how they’ll react to your messages:
Make sure [your virtual focus group] is as widely dispersed as possible—different job types, different locations, different job levels—so you can get all those different types of reactions.
Say, ‘We're about to send this out. Can you give me any quick feedback, anything that just doesn't sound right or leaves you hanging for more information?' Then you can just make those few changes and send it out.”
With a focus group, you’ll be able to figure out which messages resonate more, answer questions before they’re asked, and communicate in a way that your people want to be communicated with.
It will also be a helpful foundation for any change you’ll have to communicate in the future.
4. Build your change communication skills.
If you don’t learn how to communicate change now, I hate to say it, but you’re likely not going to be in internal comms for the long haul.
That’s because the role of the internal communicator is always evolving and change is the new constant—as weird as that sounds.
While you can’t predict what the future holds, you can anticipate that you’ll need to communicate about change throughout your entire career.
That means that this is the best time to learn and master your change communication skills.
But don’t just take our word for it. Dr. Frahm also stressed that investing in these skills will help both your organization and your career in the long run:
Change is a tricky space to work in. And if you haven't educated yourself on the appropriate way to communicate during change, you are not staying relevant. Your job prospects are going to be diminished.”Dr. Jen Frahm, Co-Founder of the Agile Change Leadership Institute
She also revealed why internal communicators are the perfect candidates to be great change practitioners:
There is a lot of overlap between what change practitioners do and internal communicators do. They're both exceptionally good at identifying what is important to people.”
You can master change communication.
Although the future is uncertain, we do know that you’ve got what it takes to help your company navigate through change successfully.
You already know how to communicate with empathy. You know how to connect with your colleagues. And you have the diplomacy and relationship skills to be a trusted mediator.
Have you effectively navigated change communication in your workplace? Need some advice to weather the storm? Join the conversation in Comms-unity, our community of communicators from around the world.