In the dark. Nervous. Gossiping. Ever worked in an organisation where change is afoot and employees are feeling and acting like this? Supporting leaders to communicate change is the first step to avoiding this. Whether you’re going through a restructure, embarking on a cost-cutting programme or moving company offices, change is almost constant in business. Here are five ways to help leaders:
1. Get the story straight
A compelling case for change is essential. Work with leaders to develop core messages and a quick summary or ‘elevator pitch’ that they all agree on. Create a sense of urgency, explain the wider context, and inspire employees with a vision for success. Make it emotional as well as rational. Cover all aspects of what, why, when and who. Create this into a one page outline for leaders – it’ll make sure they’re aligned and consistent when communicating with their teams.
2. Set the strategy
Let leaders know their crucial role. What they say and do will make the most difference to employee engagement through change. Countless research studies have shown this. Make leadership communications central to your approach, and agree the strategy with leaders. This isn’t about mass communication techniques – focus on face-to-face communications and making it meaningful and relevant for employees. Take a phased approach, showing leaders how their role changes as you tackle different stages of change. For instance, preparing the ground for change; implementing the change; and re-engaging employees after a period of change.
3. Get the timing right
Employees need to hear the news before it hits the press. Synchronise efforts with media teams, and make this part of your strategy so leaders are signed up to it. Ensure leaders tell teams at the same time. You don’t want news to trickle out from team to team – it needs to come from leaders first. Crucially, don’t delay communicating. The rumour mill can get out of control if communications aren’t started early enough. Often leaders delay communicating because they don’t have all the answers – let them know that it’s better to communicate progress and admit they don’t know everything yet, than say nothing at all. When job roles are affected, work with HR to ensure you follow legal obligations.
4. Step into employees’ shoes
At the heart of everything, come back to ‘why should they care?’ What do we want people to know, feel and do? It has to be made personal and practical. Help leaders see the announcement of news through employee’s eyes. What questions will they have? How will it impact them? Team up with HR to prepare leaders. A change toolkit for leaders can be a fantastic help. You can include a range of handy resources, such as a reminder of the change curve, guidance for handling difficult conversations, templates for team huddles, and more. You can complement this with workshops to help leaders communicate change, anticipate employee reaction, and listen to feedback.
5. Empower and involve employees
Embrace dialogue. Without the opportunity to discuss and question what they’re being told, employees won’t understand it or support it fully. Encourage leaders to be visible and approachable. Two-way communication events such as town hall meetings and webinars are great, but often people feel too shy to speak up. Provide more personal options, such as 121 sessions with leaders, lunches and informal site visits. Even better, involve employees in implementing the change. How can their ideas be used to help achieve success? Involvement and recognition of their efforts by leadership will drive ownership. Keep listening and giving candid feedback to leaders – set up a monthly call or slot at their meetings and discuss progress and next steps.
Supporting leaders in these five ways will help change be delivered in an open, engaging and informative way. Employees might not always like what’s happening, but they’ll be respectful of the way it’s being handled and retain trust in leadership and the organisation.
About Saskia Jones
Saskia Jones is a strategic communications professional with wide-ranging experience. Her latest role was Head of Communications Engagement at Oxfam, responsible for brand, strategy and internal communications. Engaging over 5,000 staff and 22,000 volunteers around the world, her team communicated with staff and volunteers in over 50 countries and 650 shops in the UK. Saskia was awarded ‘Internal Communicator of the Year’ at the Institute of Internal Communication Icon Awards 2014. Connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn