With many employees naturally resisting anything but the status quo, leaders often struggle to keep employees engaged during times of organizational change. Most change, in and of itself, can generate a sense of unease because it pushes employees out of their familiar and comfortable territory into the new and unexplored. Properly communicated, though, change can be exciting. It’s all in the way you get the message across.
Based on decades of employee engagement research, here are six change communication tips for leaders on how to communicate change and, at the same time, keep your employees engaged and on track.
1. Communicate the Reasons—Openly and Honestly
Employees deserve your respect. Don’t try to protect them from what is going on behind the scenes. If you want them to stay engaged, make sure they understand why the change is warranted. A simple, direct and straightforward approach will quell any suspicion that there’s an issue you are trying to hide. You are likely to encourage gossip and rumors if you are not transparent, clear, and truthful. You will know you are on the right track when employees understand why changes are being made.
2. Communicate the Changes From the Top Down
Significant change requires leadership’s commitment, involvement, and consistent modeling.
Employees expect to hear the current situation, complications, and implications from leaders at the top first. The initial change announcement should come to all employees from the CEO (ideally in person) and then cascade across the organization in frank and two-way team discussions with directors, managers, and supervisors. You will know you are on the right track when employees believe leaders do a good job of informing employees of changes and believe that their supervisor is an active supporter of changes that affect their team.
3. Explain How the Change Will Affect Them
Employees want to know what the change will mean to them personally and professionally. Will their role change? Will their performance be measured differently? Will they have a new boss or team?
Acknowledge that things will be different and that you appreciate the effort it will take to adjust. Because many employees will be anxious about the future, understand that there will be an emotional component to their reaction to the change. Give them the good news (the specific benefits for them) and bad news (if any). And, by all means, thank them for their cooperation, patience and continuing allegiance to the company.
4. Detail the General Change Process
Give employees the step-by-step plan for what’s going to happen and when. The more clearly they know what to expect, the more comfortable they will be with the process. Share what you know, what you do not know yet, and when you expect to fill in the gaps.
5. Get Specific about What They Need to Do
Once employees have the overall plan, they will want to know where they fit in and what is expected from them. What actions must they take? This is where they need to be on board with the change and commit to it. If there are some employees more necessary for the change to be successful than others, you can try to target and customize your communications to multiple audiences.
6. Give Employees a Chance to Digest the Information, Ask Questions and Raise Concerns
This is the most critical step of all to keep employees engaged. Provide opportunities for two-way communication where employees ask questions and get answers. An anonymous survey can help, but we recommend face-to-face meetings whenever possible. You will know you are on the right track when employees feel like they are asked for their input regarding changes that affect their work.
The Bottom Line
Change is a constant and messy. Ease the transitions for your employees by communicating openly and honestly and encouraging their questions, commitment, and help.