Communicating Workplace Change
October 26, 2016
Comprehensive Communication Plans Accelerate Acceptance of Change
Launching an internal workplace transformation campaign can be a daunting task. There are still so many unknowns in the project itself, so many decisions to be made and some potential pitfall areas; it can be hard to know what to even communicate to the rest of the organization. The prospect that any release of information will receive push back or reopen the floor for discussion about decisions that have already been made can also be overwhelming. And, once that first message has been sent, follow up and continual updates are required. It’s certainly easier to not launch any communication at all or, to keep stalling.
But the buzz is going to spread no matter what. If the company fails to spearhead the message and start the dialogue, then it falls on the rumor mill to provide information and that may sour morale and doom the positive impact that the workplace transformation should have. Instead of a new chapter that opens the door for an evolution of corporate culture and points to a clearly bright future, employees might instead feel slighted and disillusioned. And who can blame them, if no one is giving them a glimpse of the big picture or trusting them with any knowledge about what their future workplace holds?
Communicating workplace change looks different for every organization. This is an inherently personal process that must be custom tailored to account for corporate culture, internal structure or hierarchy, departmental differences, size and the brand identity of the organization. It is imperative to develop a roadmap to guide the communication; a path to lead your messaging. But this plan shouldn’t be carved in stone. It needs to be adaptive and flexible since the actual transformation has so many unknown elements. Keeping fingers on the pulse of the organization is essential. If there’s an unforeseen area of resistance, the plan should be adapted so that the company can address the topic. If there’s a delay, the plan should be updated. The plan should be a living document that can be altered as needed.
Your business likely has many hopes that rest on this workplace transformation. Some of these may be that an updated workplace will better reflect the most efficient processes, will encourage collaboration or promote organizational changes. These connections between the transformation and any forthcoming organizational changes are essential to communicate. Doing so paints a bigger picture for employees and lets them share in the overall vision. Including people makes resistance more difficult, despite how true the opposite may feel.
A great starting place for developing the communication plan comes from asking the time honored “Who, Why, What, When and How?”
This is all about the audience: the “who” is the target of your messages. Each message should be appropriately tailored to the intended audience. One message may be a resource for managers, so they can help their team adjust to the new environment. Another might be a company-wide email announcing the date that construction begins. Know your audience and know who to target with what information.
Make sure that your workplace transformation team has the autonomy to deliver messages containing vetted content to individuals at various levels within the organization. Be sure to equip them to communicate effectively, follow a plan and guide the dialogue about the forthcoming transformation. If devoting internal resources proves to be difficult, consider hiring a consultant to communicate the message. Also, be sure to solicit high-level sponsorship for this effort, to add credibility to the messages.
What is the purpose of your message? To communicate a new organizational change that will result from the transformation? To directly address specific resistance? To have employees complete a survey? Be sure to have a clear reason for all communication; don’t just send out details as they form. Think about how best to present all information.
Be genuine. People are increasingly good at spotting falsehoods and being honest is always the best policy. And be positive. Don’t cringingly apologize for a forthcoming change, instead, present things in a positive light. Focus on what advantages each element of the new workplace will bring so that people who might feel persecuted because of the change will understand why it benefits the group or the company overall. Though many will take the transformation personally, it’s about refocusing the perspective so that individuals understand the business drivers behind the transformation. Don’t sweep details under the rug just because there may be resistance to them. It’s better to clear the air, present the information as positively as possible and give people time to process instead of letting a controversial change become an unpleasant surprise.
What are you specifically trying to say? Make sure the content of your message is clear. Here, language is of ultimate importance. Pick specific terms to describe the transformation and refer to them consistently. Don’t get fancy; be as straightforward as possible with language and reinforce certain terminology instead of describing the same thing multiple ways. Your message will be far more clear and accessible if you keep the terms used to describe the transformation as consistent and simple as possible.
Being proactive is key. If you say it first, then you have the chance to shape the conversation. Instead of having to address resistance that has cropped up or delivering a message at odds with what people have been hearing around the water cooler, beat them to the punch and own the dialogue.
Timing is of utmost importance. Make sure that you’re synched up with the actual project schedule for the transformation, leadership, and any other elements that might impact the message. If there’s a meeting or event where an update would be appropriate, be sure to create a targeted message for that event. If management needs to be onboard, hold off on sending a company-wide email until you’ve included them. These events should be factored into the plan and the plan adjusted accordingly.
How are you actually going to be sending these messages? Will they be targeted emails, announcements at meetings, signage that you post throughout the office, informative documents to guide managers? A mixture of all these and even more?
Your company’s culture should define what materials and modes of communication you use. Make use of the traditional ways of communicating throughout your company, but, don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Breaking the mold can make a big impact. For instance, if there’s a common space that nearly everyone uses, perhaps the break room, go ahead and create something for that space. Typical workplace communication probably isn’t normally done this way so it’s a chance to stand out and get people talking.
Feedback is very important; it’s crucial that employees not feel as though all these changes are coming down the pipeline and they have no voice to respond. Be sure to provide a mechanism (survey, managerial office hours, focus groups) so that employees have a chance to be heard and potentially influence change.
The most successful workplace transformations feature five common elements:
• A proactive approach to communication
• Honest tone in messaging
• Consistent language and terms
• Message content that “connects the dots” for employees
• Ongoing communications
Be sure to execute these five elements in the style, tone and content appropriate for your organization and your own workplace transformation will be a smashing success. Change can be difficult, but it’s always worth it. By sharing the vision and clearly communicating the positive elements of the forthcoming change, employees will be onboard and excited for the next chapter.