Communication; the missing link in managing change part 2

In Part 1, we discussed why it is vital to engage your employees in the changes that are brought about by a new Strategy. In Part 2, we look at the Steps in Communicating Change.

Steps In Communicating Change

Front line managers must to be given the tools to communicate the change message to their staff.  In addition, they need to be given the complete picture of change so that they address the correct message and not just the immediate impact – such as new investment or a pay cut. For managers to properly communicate, they need to be given an understanding of the change that they are expected to bring about including:

·   Why is the change happening in this Organisation and why is it happening now?

·   What will change in the Organisation and when will this change take place?

·   Who is going to be impacted in terms of losing their job or changes to their roles?

·   How will the staff who are remaining be supported in picking up the work?

·   How will the impacted staff be involved e.g. training for staff whose job is changing?

How this message is transmitted is as important as what is transmitted. Managers need to remember that people will hear what they expect to hear and that if it is possible for something to be misunderstood, it will be.  Some of the key steps in communicating change include:

1.        Communication style

Not all employees will understand the message if it is delivered in one style. A direct style will not work with an individual who empathises with others; their sensitivities need to be taken into account in delivering the message. The responsibility for adapting their style to the circumstances rests with the manager not those who are receiving the message.

2.        Body language

Up to 90% of all communication relates to both body language and the tone of the words used. Managers need to match their pitch, pace and stance to suit the message that they are delivering.  For example, a low pitch and slow pace can be perceived as threatening thus completely undermining the intent of the message.  

3.        Consider the context

The location of delivering the message is as important as the message. Managers need to be aware of the signals that they may unintentionally send out in calling staff to a meeting. A message delivered in a manager’s office as opposed to a meeting room may take on a different meaning to those called to that meeting.

4.        Don’t ignore the details

It is very easy – and dangerous – for managers to assume that their staff have the same understanding of the information that they do. The opposite is normally the case. Without the detail, employees may not accept the conclusions that the Organisation has come to – especially where that change impacts upon them directly.

5.         Listen!

Employees have invested in the success of the enterprise and it makes business sense to create time and space in the communications process to allow managers to listen to the employees in their teams.  What do they think about the message? What ideas do they have about how they can contribute to improving the current performance issues? What issues, concerns and worries do they have as they assimilate the message? 

Case Study

A pharmaceutical company was facing declining sales and margins on their core product. Recognising the long term implications on the viability of the organisation, the senior management moved to introduce new products to the site.  This would require a dramatic change to both the processes and capabilities of the site.

Given the scale of the transformation, senior management engaged with staff from the beginning.  Our first step was to conduct a series of workshops with affected staff – from middle manager down – to understand what their views were of previous transformation processes, what went well and what could have been done better. The key learnings from these workshops guided how the transformation process would be managed.

An action planning session, including the site leadership, led to a series of actions that transformed how change was handled on the site.   By developing a shared view of what success would look like for the organisation, we built a high degree of engagement and shared understanding of what was required for the new organisation. Working with key groups, we identified what success would look like, what were the key roadblocks to success, what capabilities did the organisation need and what would the new organisation look like.

We helped the key stakeholders design a transition plan that would lead them to the new organisation and worked with the senior management team on implementing this plan.  Engaging this group of key stakeholders gave them a stake in the outcomes of the change programme. It was no longer something that was imposed but now had a shared ownership. The result for the company was a flexible organisation with a culture that allowed them to introduce multiple products without increasing headcount.

By engaging with, and listening to the staff at an early stage, we shaped a transformation process that had a lasting impact on the site.  


Change is not a 50-yard race; it is a marathon[1].  It is not enough to announce that the change is taking place; Organisations need to engage with their employees again and again to ensure that the momentum for change continues. Otherwise employees may be left behind or work against the new Organisation. Front line managers are the key to this message but are they delivering it?  

Employees will look to their own manager to determine the effect that the change will have on them; if the manager does not act as though the change is important, the employees will not believe that it will impact upon them. To bring about lasting change requires a serious engagement by all levels of the Organisation not just a series of announcements from the top.

Shane Twomey