Business leaders are being stretched – having to make tough choices and subsequent changes for improvement, or even survival, in difficult financial times. These changes affect people, structure, processes, tasks and systems, so effective communication becomes essential during the whole change process (pre-implementation, during implementation and post-implementation). There is a big difference, however, between communication designed to share “what we are doing” and communication designed to build awareness and engage employees in the process. Communicating authentically with employees is essential if one is to garner buy-in and participation in times of change.
It would seem that employees fundamentally want to understand three things during times of change:
- What the change is about – what changes have been suggested, when will they occur and how will they be implemented? Vagueness confuses and creates anxiety, so communication clarity is essential here.
- How the change will impact them personally – are the potential benefits going to outweigh the possible elements of fallout from the change? Are there any risks that I might face and are there any losses I might have to endure? Will I be able to rise to the challenges that the change may bring?
- How the organisation will support and assist them during the change – will I receive training, coaching and care so that I will be able to fulfil any new expectations that leadership might have of me?
In addressing the above, messages from managers need to be credible. During times of uncertainty, people need the good and the bad news communicated truthfully and completely. The research of Professor Hubbard (Oxford) suggests that the implications of leadership telling too positive a story are: less commitment to the organisation, lower employee productivity, more employees deciding to leave the organisation unhappily and worse change implementation. Managers are being “watched” constantly – employees attempting to assess the trustworthiness of leaders and their messages. Of particular note, leadership communication efforts, concerning the following concepts (from Leading Change, Free To Grow), seem to be important:
- Their own feelings about the change
- A sense of confidence (or lack thereof)
- Their trust in their staff to get through the change
- A sense of purpose and commitment towards the change (or lack thereof)
- The degree to which they accept the reactions and feelings of staff
- Expectations regarding behaviour that is seen as appropriate or inappropriate (e.g. rumours)
- The degree to which they are in touch with the feelings of staff
Authentic communication during times of change is a leadership necessity – truthfulness, transparency, consistent messages and a demonstration of support and care. When faced with radical change, employees may have to leave behind things and people that they value highly, causing feelings of intense loss. Leaders can assist them through the ordeal with support and authentic communication. Marian Anderson affirms: “Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it”.
Free To Grow offers comprehensive processes to assist organisations with change, including the programmes like “Leading Change” for leaders/managers and Change@Work for Change Champions