By Jen Sweeney
By our nature, we are uncomfortable with the unknown and we seek out explanations to eliminate the anxiety it causes. When we’re faced with significant uncertainty, our desire for answers intensifies and we’re more likely to make hasty decisions.
Now consider how unfamiliar and uncertain work is becoming because of globalization and technology advancements. Organizations are retooling—or discarding outright—approaches that have been in place for years and implementing new, often unfamiliar technology and radically different ways of working. At the same time, some companies are failing to clearly communicate these changes to employees.
This lack of communication, and its consequences, can be damaging to an organization’s bottom line, and to employee morale and productivity.
Here are three things leaders can do to effectively communicate change:
1. Communicate early and often
Change can cause enormous disruption within an organization, even when everyone involved knows what to expect. When changes aren’t communicated to employees in advance, not only can they cause disruption, they can also erode employees’ trust in their employers.
When employees have context, they are more invested in the outcome and are more engaged. They need leaders to clearly communicate what will change, why the change is necessary, and how it will affect employees.
2. Consider the different audiences within your organization and tailor your message accordingly
Would you communicate with customers by sending a one-size-fits-all mass mailing? Probably not. Why, then, do some organizations still interact with their employees in that way?
Start thinking of your employees as who they are outside of work: Consumers with very different backgrounds, interests and responsibilities. They’re accustomed to personalized, targeted communication in their private lives, and they have very little time to spare.
Would you communicate with customers by sending a one-size-fits-all mass mailing? Probably not.
Grab their attention and hold it with meaningful communication such as personalized push notifications when a milestone is reached, or more frequent status updates for larger initiatives such as software migrations or other significant changes.
3. Embrace omnichannel micro-communication
Broadcast your messages in small, bite-size bits across multiple channels such as social media, email, and digital and physical signage. When deciding which channels to use, consider your organization’s culture. If company-wide emails have not grabbed your employees’ attention in the past, try something different like break-room posters, intranet announcements or progress parties for project milestones. If your employees are active on corporate social media sites like Yammer, use those channels to get your message out. Be sure to gather employee opinion with pulse surveys and use the feedback to make changes.
In addition, implement tools that enable employees to learn more about the changes on their terms, and give them the ability to provide feedback.
Communication has always been critical to a project’s success. A recent report by McKinsey & Company notes that when everyone in an organization plays a role in a transformation—whether it’s “big bang” migrations of the past or the smaller updates that have taken their place—successful outcomes are more likely.
The McKinsey report notes that a transformation is 5.8 times more likely to be successful at organizations where CEOs “communicate a compelling, high-level change story,” and 6.3 times likelier when senior leaders share aligned messages about the change with the rest of the organization.
For company leaders, that means articulating a vision and communicating actively. Include every employee in the conversation. When employees feel like their actions and opinions count—regardless of level or career stage—they are more involved and innovative. Most importantly, when they fully understand their roles and responsibilities, they are better able to help the organization thrive in the future.