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The challenge of communicating change

Whether it’s mergers, restructures, acquisitions or redundancies, communication is critical for businesses during times of change. While change can create new opportunities, it can be met with criticism or resistance from staff, customers, shareholders and other stakeholders. With everything moving so quickly, it can be challenging to effectively communicate with different audiences and maintain confidence in the organisation. A good communication strategy can make all the difference in successfully implementing large-scale organisational change.

Here are our top tips for communicating change.

Communicate early

Many organisations are reluctant to go out with information until all the facts are known. However, lack of communication in the early stages of the change process can mean rumours rather than fact quickly fill the information void. It is important for staff to hear about the change from the organisation’s leaders first, and not from other staff members or in the media. Get your story out early and clearly. You don’t have to have all of the answers at the get-go. If all of the facts aren’t known about the situation yet, be honest and follow up when the information becomes available.

Communicate often

There is no such thing as too much communication when it comes to change management. Regular communication and repetition of key messages over time will assist people to understand the changes. Using a range of channels and appealing to a variety of communication styles is also important as no one method will fit all audiences. Targeted messages for different stakeholders will also help to address their specific concerns.

Those ‘in the know’ have often had many months to absorb, analyse and reflect on the change, but the expect staff and others to grasp and support the change. Remember, change takes time. People change slowly and only with encouragement and information.

Communicate why

The first question staff, customers and stakeholders will have is: “how will the changes affect me?” Or, more likely, their minds will go to that familiar place – WIFM – hat’s in it for ME?

It is essential to address this question and to assist people to make sense of the changes and how they will impact them personally. However, if people do not understand the reasons behind the change, expect resistance. Communicating why the changes are happening and what they are trying to achieve will help people to accept them and get on board.

Communicate openly

Two-way communication is vital to success. You must allow people the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. This approach will increase trust by making staff, customers and other stakeholders feel like they are involved in the process and have a say in decision making. That doesn’t mean that they have to control all of the decisions; but inviting them ‘into the tent’ to influence some aspects of the change will go a long way to overcoming the fear of the unknown, and the resistance that is common. A two-way approach also allows you to understand how messages were received so that you can review and refine communications to address people’s concerns and to hopefully, have them see the change with clarity, calmness and a focus on the benefits.