Change is an important aspect of any evolving company, but all changes, big and small, are likely to face obstacles during their implementation. You may be excited to automate sales execution using Salesforce, for example, because you really believe it will streamline the sales process. But how can you get your employees to share your enthusiasm? It all boils down to communication. When implementing change, companies often focus too much on the logistics and not enough on communication. Change has to be understood and supported in order for it to be successful – without great change management communication, the change is destined to fail.
“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” Novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley certainly did not intend for this quote to refer to organizational change, but anyone who has tried to force a change on their employees would agree that it applies.
A staggering 70% of all changes attempted in organizations fail. If you want to be in the successful 30%, you need a change management communication plan because the people affected by the change are ultimately the ones responsible for making and sustaining it.
Managing conversations about change is challenging. Emotional reactions and resistance are frustrating, but you cannot simply order people to be enthusiastic about a change. Change adoption depends on the cooperation of those affected by it, and you can only get people on board when they understand the purpose of the change.
By following the best practices below, you can effectively communicate the why behind a change – which is the key to successfully implementing it.
Remember, sudden change is jarring, so be specific right from the start. Don’t make your employees dig for details; offer them early and often:
Instead of saying “Effective next month we will manage all sales through Salesforce,” say, “Starting March 3, we will begin shifting sales efforts from legacy systems into Salesforce. The sales team will transition all sales-related tasks into Salesforce by May 1. Managing sales within Salesforce will allow us to automate redundant tasks and better manage customer relations.
The latter answers the who (sales team), what (switching sales tasks to Salesforce), where (from legacy systems into Salesforce), when (by May 1), and why (to automate tasks and manage customer relations). People are less likely to feel ambushed by a change announcement if you give them detailed information right away.
Providing details is crucial, and details are best delivered by people who are fully informed and on board with the change.
Employees generally want to hear about change through the changemaker and their direct supervisor. Thorough change management communication requires preparing multiple people within your organization to be advocates for change, which includes managers and supervisors who will be communicating with their respective teams. The desire for change has to trickle down so that each level of management and each department has someone communicating directly with those affected.
The Maurer 3 Levels of Resistance and Change Model states that change will face three levels of resistance, one of which is “I don’t like you.” If employees do not trust the person communicating the change, they will fight it. You should always be working to build trust in the workplace, but it’s especially important during a change.
When organizational change happens, the changemakers will understand the why behind the change, but a Towers Watson study shows that only 68% of senior managers will know why the change is necessary, and the numbers continue to drop off from there.
If the purpose of the change isn’t fully explained to managers and supervisors, they can’t approach a conversation about the change with confidence, and employees won’t put their trust in someone who is shaky on the details. Educating managers and supervisors about the change is crucial. Management should not only understand the details of why the change is needed and how it will be implemented but also how it will affect their employees specifically.
Don’t rely on one medium to talk about a new change. Everyone has different communication styles and preferences — it’s important to reach people through the channels they respond to best. Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses.
Using a variety of channels also increases exposure to the information, and better coverage leads to better comprehension. All changes will be met with questions, so anticipate them and be prepared with responses.
Appeal to people’s individual concerns by answering the questions, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and “What does it mean to me?” (WDIMTM). Customize communication-based off of each employee’s or team’s level of involvement in the change and how they will be impacted.
Let’s say you’re switching payroll from weekly processing to biweekly. It’s going to affect everyone within the organization, but accounting will be impacted much more than other departments, so you’ll need to communicate with each department differently.
In this example, processing payroll weekly put too much strain on the accounting department and often resulted in payroll being released late. For accounting, the WIIFM is that they have more time to process payroll, so they can release payroll on a regular schedule. For every other department, the WIIFM is that they will always know when to expect their paychecks and won’t have to waste time following up with accounting.
The impact on each department is different as well. The WDIMTM for accounting is that they will need to change their payroll process, so the transition will require more effort on their part than the other departments, whose WDIMTM is simply that they will have to adjust to getting paid biweekly instead of weekly.
This is an example of the right person needing to communicate the change. Obviously, accounting is going to want to hear from someone who understands their day-to-day duties and can speak to the specifics of the change as it applies to their department. When that person is prepared with answers to WIIFM and WDIMTM, they are showing employees that the change is being made with them in mind.
Of course, even when you have considered how the change will affect different areas of your organization, upsetting the status quo is always rough.
No matter how justified the change might be, people are bound to resist. The Kübler-Ross Change Curve, based off of the five stages of grief, acknowledges that people affected by change are likely to have emotional reactions to it. They may move through the denial, grief, bargaining, and depression stages several times before landing on acceptance. Preparing for emotional reactions allows you to communicate with empathy.
Before announcing a change, map out potential objections and prepare responses to them. If you plan to switch email from Outlook to Front, employees will likely object to learning a new tool. Managers might complain that it will take too much time for them to learn the new software and train their employees on it as well.
If you simply announce the change, employees could be in denial that it will actually happen and put no effort into making the switch. Managers may try to bargain their way out of it, swearing that it would be more efficient to stick with Outlook. As people work their way through their emotional reactions, you need to be ready to guide them.
Your prepared response might be that the transition will happen gradually over the course of two months and that training and ongoing support will be provided through digital adoption solutions such as in-app training. Show your employees that you have a plan. If you introduce the change alongside a demo of Whatfix walkthroughs that guide each user through the new features in Front, employees won’t feel as overwhelmed.
You can combat denial and grief with additional resources that show your team the benefits of Front versus Outlook and shut down bargaining with firm but empathetic responses that back up your decision to change. Lift employees out of the depression stage by celebrating small wins, such as showing off how Front’s segmented inboxes allow everyone to achieve inbox 0 faster.
Even the smallest changes will be met with resistance. Communicating with compassion and understanding will help you move past it.
Change management communication needs to flow both ways. You may believe you’ve designed the greatest change implementation process of all time, but if you aren’t listening to the people whom the change affects, you’ve already failed.
Poor change management communication won’t just negatively affect the change process; it’s likely to spread to other areas of the business. Change is stressful. When employees are stressed out, their ability to process information is reduced by 80%. That’s a huge drop. Stressed-out employees struggle to recall information. They also tend to get defensive and feel threatened by change. Communication is critical. If you don’t talk to your team, productivity and morale will suffer.
It’s possible to remain firm in your decision to change while still allowing those affected by the change to weigh in on how it will be implemented. Use any one of these communication channels to gather feedback:
Keeping a pulse on the progress of acceptance (or lack thereof) using surveys will help you identify potential roadblocks early on. You may also discover that your employees have some innovative ideas for change management by reading online chats or forums.
Allowing your employees to influence the change process is a great way to increase enthusiasm and commitment to the change. Be open to altering your initial implementation plan based on the feedback you recieve. Remember, the same destination can often be reached via multiple routes.
Keep in mind that conversations about the change may need to happen several times – when it comes to change management, repetition is not a bad thing.
Repetition is an essential aspect of change management communication. You may have been planning this change for some time, but it is new to everyone else. Employees will need to hear about the change many times and in many ways in order to fully understand and support it.
Consider the classic marketing Rule of Seven – people need to hear your message at least seven times before they’ll consider taking action; change implementation is no different.
When change is first announced, people are preoccupied with how it will affect them personally and don’t focus on the details. Their minds are clouded by emotional reactions and initial resistance to change, making it difficult for them to understand the purpose.
When you repeat your message, you give employees more opportunities to learn about the why behind the change and help them understand how it will happen. Repetition gives you the space to put all of the aforementioned communication strategies into practice.
Communication with those affected by a new change is necessary to encourage understanding and acceptance. Have a change management communication plan in place before rolling out any initiative. Know how you will announce and support the change and be ready to solidify it with tools, such as Whatfix in-app training and Slack channels for ongoing discussions. You should be prepared to give clear explanations of how the change will benefit those affected and also be open to feedback throughout the process.
A successful change management communication strategy can be the difference between “great and sudden change” and great and sustainable change, so communicate early, often, and effectively.
Need help implementing change? Whatfix Digital Adoption Platform enables training and line of business managers to make change programs stick by providing users with contextual, interactive and real-time digital guidance on the transition from “as-is” to “to-be” processes and application states.