Communication; the missing link in managing change part 1

Why do we do what we do?

Every Organisation has a purpose – whether it has defined it or not. It has a reason for existing and has goals it wishes to achieve. Some Organisations create a strategy, some have a plan and more have neither. All Organisations, however, rely on their staff to achieve these goals, plans and strategies. When these change, the Organisation needs to take into account the impact of this change upon these employees or failure becomes ever more likely.

 Short-term strategy alone will not be sufficient to sustain the Organisation in the long run.  As part of a longer-term strategy, Organisations need to ensure that their employees are committed to the changes that have to be made. If Organisations fail to properly engage their employees about the need for change, thereby actively managing the retention and development of key people, they may find that they are not in a position to take advantage of the opportunity their strategy presents. Many leaders are failing to take their employees considerations into account when making decisions regarding the future direction of the Organisation.

Engaging in change

While many employees are aware that things have changed in their Organisation, it is wrong to assume that they have the same understanding of the environment and its effect on their circumstances. Recent CIPD employee engagement research[1]showed that 42% of employees felt that they are not kept well informed about what is going on in their Organisation. Where managers fail to fully explain the context, such as the Organisation’s longer-term goal and the steps that management need to take to move forward,this can lead to resistance or half-hearted acceptance of the need for change. While this may be misinterpreted as employees being idealistic or unrealistic, it may be simply that they do not understand what is expected of them. This can lead to a stalled or delayed change programme with consequences that damage the Organisation ’s overall ability to survive and thrive.

Defusing the resistance

The starting point for Organisations is to understand the impact that the change is having on their key stakeholders – customers, shareholders and employees.  A normal response of many to change is to initially deny that change (Figure 1). Without proper engagement, this can easily lead to active resistance. Resistance can be an entirely natural part of Organisational life and is often the result of a lack of understanding and acceptance of the current situation.  Organisations need to recognise and define what practical steps have to be taken to move their employees to the same defined state and place. The first step is to acknowledge the employee’s concerns; the next step is to communicate to them.

Communicate, Communicate

Communicating effectively and impactful outcomes to staff during a change process is challenging, and often doesn't work. Without understanding how to overcome these challenges, Organisations miss out on how to understand resistance and get engagement in the change.

Front line managers are the key to communicating with employees regarding the need for change. While leadership from the top is vital, senior executives are too far removed from the front line for the message to have a lasting impact. Employees will look to their direct manager for the lead on change. 

Organisations, therefore, to need ensure that their front line managers themselves understand the message, that their role is to assist in bringing about change and that their leaders will support them. If front line managers themselves are not fully engaged with both the communication and change processes, any momentum gained by senior management will stall.  

Next: Steps in Communicating Change

Shane Twomey