The most important factor in the outcome of any major reorganization is the human factor. “There is no such thing like over-communication during phases of change”. Even if all facts are presented in an all-hands-meeting, messages require frequent repetitions. Employees need to receive and understand the information provided. The following guidelines for executives, managers and supervisors help to improve communication during periods of change.
What is the reason for change – and why now? Even if employees may know the difficult conditions that led to the new situation, many adhere to the past. They may blame external circumstances rather than internal factors for it. The real situation needs to be explained in clear and credible language. Shorthand statements like, “With this measure we will increase our equity base”, even if correct, do not help to understand why change is necessary now.
Repeated information sharing. Often, people do not hear or understand a message right at the first time. This can be overcome with repeated communication – despite the fact that managers’ time is already stretched thin during periods of transition. Information not provided or understood will be replaced with grapevine. Obviously, such substitutes distract employees even more.
Frank information and courage to say: “I don’t know”. In situations of massive change, employees weigh every word from management. It is best to ask employees if they want to hear available information even if it may change in the future, or if they prefer to wait until information has become fact. Employees will assure that they want to hear all available information.
Careful use of language. Phrases like, “it is business as usual” are far too often used by management. The intention is well meant, soothing and taking away employees’ fears. The situation during major organizational change is however not at all “usual”. Managers who resort to such phases may easily be stamped “incredible”. Statements like, “let’s stay focused on work” are much more advisable under such circumstances.
Assurance of what is not changing. Even if the focus is on the transition, explaining which characteristics of the former organization remain helps reducing employees’ fears and makes it easier for them to cope with stress that inevitably accompanies transitions.
Information over form. Information must not be delayed because forms are not available, or the final presentation template has not been agreed to. If information is valuable to employees, it should be provided as soon as possible. Even if available information is incomplete, providing two memos is better than causing “information delay”. Employees will always appreciate management’s efforts to get information to them as soon as possible, even if the form is not yet perfect.
Diligent and realistic transition planning builds the foundation for a successful, in time realization. Execution as a team leads to motivated employees, which results consequently in more efficient, more competitive organizations. Employees build the backbone of most companies. They carry pride in what they do and have usually very keen interest in contributing to make “their” company successful. Communication is a very simple, yet very powerful element of change management to make this happen.
Wolfgang “Deiton” Damm can build on over 25 years of management experience in different industries. With engineering and business degrees, Deiton embraces managerial, organizational, marketing and technical disciplines. He is author of a book and patent holder. Deiton writes articles and blogs about better business practices.