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Communicating a ‘new normal’

Working from home, virtual meetings and social isolation. Restructures, job losses, and salary cuts. This year arrived and upended the furniture more than we could ever imagine, let alone prepare for.

As we continue to roll with the COVID punches, we are experiencing significant change across every sector. Managing organisational change is one of the biggest challenges a business will face, with poor communication often given as a reason for change ‘failure’. And when change is forced upon us or occurs during uncertainty, it is an even more perilous path.

So…why can it go so wrong, so often?

Guiding your business – or team – through a period of change can be uncomfortable and certainly not fun. Here’s a few quick tips to help reduce resistance, maximise acceptance – and ultimately improve your chances of a successful change process.

People are people

We commonly refer to staff as ‘resources’ but they are individuals with their own values, responsibilities and circumstances. If you were communicating to customers about change, you might tailor things by industry, segment, or need. Bear this in mind with your internal audiences as well.

While you can’t allow personal circumstances to dictate change decisions, it’s important to remember that lives will be impacted by the change you are about to make, and each person will feel the impact of this differently.

Think about whether you need to ‘segment’ your staff communications as well, and what form this might take.

Build trust in the change

A resistance to change isn’t necessarily a rejection of it. Critical to people’s acceptance of change is their level of trust in both the people and process.

Ensure your management team is equipped with the tools to effectively communicate the change. This could take the form of regular communication, pre-prepared messaging, answers to commonly asked questions, up-to-date information about how each team member will be impacted, and clear channels or points of contact where staff can find out more or just talk with someone.

Choose your chief messenger carefully

Building trust also requires the right people to carry your message. It might seem logical to choose the CEO or Head of HR but are they the right person for the job?

Choose someone who:

  • is open, approachable, respected and credible within the business
  • supports the change and can therefore be authentic when promoting it
  • can talk knowledgeably and honestly about what’s happening
  • is comfortable speaking publicly
  • genuinely displays compassion and care.

Change is a conversation

Communicating change – no matter the scale – can sometimes be a one-way street. Management often want to just rip off the band aid and move on for the business’ sake. While tempting, take time to listen and engage with staff, to understand their perspectives and concerns. This is important for a number of reasons:

  • If someone is struggling with the change, this could be the first step to getting them through it
  • It keeps you connected to conversations internally. People talk, and gossip picks up pace quickly
  • Staff are unsettled and uncertain – they want a lot of information, and they want it now.
  • Welcoming questions and being responsive with answers helps slow the roll of the gossips. Correcting inaccuracies is essential, but so is genuinely listening to what is being said
  • Staff may raise important issues, questions or ideas that you hadn’t considered.

It’s not all about you

Staff will be, quite understandably, thinking about what’s changing for them. The business is often the last thing on their mind. So, if there are questions from staff, answer them as honestly as you can even if that means admitting you need more time to gather information.

You may not think the answers are important compared with the ‘bigger picture’, but they are critically important to your staff. Which means they can also be critically important to whether the change process ultimately succeeds or fails.

Don’t rush people through the process

Understandably, businesses often want to move through change as quickly and cleanly as they can, thinking that languishing in transition will ultimately be bad for the business. But putting a clock on the change process doesn’t ease the pressure on staff adjusting to the change. If anything, it can unsettle it further.

Deadlines are necessary but be prepared to be a little flexible. Support shouldn’t end when the change happens – it will be needed afterwards to help staff move forward in a positive frame of mind and excited about what’s ahead. This doesn’t just benefit them, it benefits the business.

Change is messy. And that’s because we’re human. It’s rare for anyone to get it 100 per cent right, but if you focus on communicating to your people as individuals and not as ‘staff’, you’ll give yourself the best shot possible at success.