Communicating Change to your Employees - Change Management Skills

The saying, “The only constant is change,” particularly holds true to business management.  One of the key strengths of a great manager and leader is the ability to accept change and orders that come down from above, with enthusiasm and confidence, in which you then translate the directive with the same enthusiasm to your team.  Even if you are not worried about the changes taking place, that does not mean your staff isn’t concerned.  They generally resist change because they do not know, or have a lack of knowledge, on what’s coming ahead.  It is also because of the way the change is communicated to them.  Constant clear communication throughout the change process is the key.  The change can be as major as a company takeover, or as simple as a small change in organizational structure.  Whatever the change, it needs to be clearly communicated to your staff to relieve any possible anxiety.  


You will most likely get some worrisome and sarcastic remarks from some of the team members, but that’s natural so don’t worry about it.  Don’t get angry about complaints, even though you may be angry about the change yourself.  They may just need to blow off some steam, and the best thing you can do is show that you do care and understand their frustrations.  You might want to share some of your own frustrations as well; as long as the main take away point is optimism for the future.  Your main concern is to make sure the change or transition goes smoothly and everyone knows the new objective.  Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what you should do.  Take the steps to prevent unwanted surprises, continually meet with your boss and staff to keep them updated, and don’t make or implement major changes until you have consulted with your staff.  If you show you are embracing the changes with optimism and leading by example, your staff will most likely follow with little to no reservations. 


You need to determine:


  • What is the reason for the change?
  • Why is there change?
  • What is the goal you or the company hopes to achieve?
  • Will it make your department or company more efficient?
  • Will there be a need for more resources?
  • Where is the change coming from, you or upper management?
  • Who will benefit from this change?
  • Who can be negatively affected by this change?


Your goal is to have your staff understand the need for the upcoming change.  Even if it is perceived as negative, it should still be perceived as a need for a change in direction, or even to keep the company afloat. 


Here are 12 points to keep in mind when dealing with change:



  1. The key to a successful implementation of change is to communicate consistently and frequently.  Clearly communicate the vision, the mission, and the objectives.  Help people understand how these changes will affect them personally, and the steps taken to make sure the change is as seamless as possible.  The more information you give, the less uncertainty and anxiety there will be.  The less you share, the more misconceptions, which will most likely be more negative than positive.  Lack of communication is one of the biggest complaint’s employees have towards their manager.  Be known as the manager who over-communicates, rather than under-communicates.  This will also help build trust in you as a leader.


  1. Communicate the reasons for the change so that everyone fully understands the need and purpose.  No matter how senseless a change might seem, there are reasons behind it, and it is your job to convey those reasons to your staff.  When they fully understand, they are more likely to make it work.


  1. There may be times when you cannot, and should not, communicate any upcoming changes that are considered confidential.  However, if the event is not confidential, be sure to communicate all that is known about the changes as quickly as the information is available.


  1. You can either talk to everyone at the same time, or each individually.  Here are some guidelines to follow:



  • Communicate to everyone at the same time if:     


    • It is necessary for everyone to hear the news at the same time.
    • You want to get your employees involved to generate ideas and help in finding solutions to the change.  This is also a good way to create teamwork within the group.
    • You want to briefly announce to everyone a major event and then immediately follow up with individual meetings.  


  • Communicate to each person individually if:     


    • You anticipate that it will cause a high degree of emotion, which can be counter-productive.     
    • The subject matter is sensitive and can be consider private or embarrassing.
    • The changes involve actions that should remain confidential.  It might be related to pay, classification, employment status, or downsizing.  
    • If you know there will be troublemakers in a full group setting that might make matters worse.  


  1. You can either verbally share the change information or write it out.  In most cases, it is a good idea to use both written and verbal communication.  A good rule of thumb would be, the more emotional the issue, the more it should be verbal rather than written.  You might also want to document the conversation with any expectations or concerns as a backup.  Here are some guidelines to follow for both verbal and written communication regarding change:


  • Verbal communication is more appropriate when:  


    • You know that they will not take the written message seriously, or will not fully understand its meaning. 
    • You want to grab their attention immediately, and not take the chance that they will automatically check to see if a message is waiting for them in their inbox.
    • Emotions are just too high.  Verbal communication provides chances for both you and the other person to let off steam and cool down.  They will then have a better chance at understanding the reasoning behind the change. 
    • You are looking for feedback visually and not by an e-mail response. 
    • You need to convince or persuade the team to accept the change.  You will have a better chance at getting your point across verbally if it is asking for more of them to do.  
    • The details of the change are too complicated, and cannot be well expressed written on paper or in e-mail format.



  • Written communication is appropriate if:  


    • The change is general enough and does not necessarily affect your department.
    • You need documentation of the communication for future reference.     
    • Your staff will be referring to details of the change at a later date.   
    • After you gave a verbal statement, you are following up with updated information.    



  1. Let your staff ask questions and provide honest answers.  If you do not know the answer, it is better to say, “I don’t know, but I will find out as soon as possible.”  Be sure to always follow up.  Also, listen and don’t be defensive.  In most cases the change will be out of your control so do not take complaints personally.  Be sure you have said all what you have to say, and not end the conversation until you made the point perfectly clear.  Do not just state the change as fact, and then quickly flee the scene.


  1. After you have communicated the upcoming changes to your department, if you feel that the information is very important, ask upper management to stop by and briefly talk with your staff members.  This should calm them down, and make them feel good, since upper management took the time to make sure everyone was on the same page.


  1. Get involved and communicate right away before the rumor mill and grapevine starts to spread around.  The longer you wait, the more exaggerated the suspected change can get.


  1. Sometimes change, which resulted in the loss of fellow employees, processes, or organizational structure, is very sad.  It should not be celebrated, and it is all right to mourn and recognize the loss.  It will make you look more human than just a manager who thinks about the numbers.  This will also help your staff accept and move on to a new adventure.


  1. Don’t forget that you will not only be giving facts about the change, but watched carefully on how you act towards the change.  If you are saying one thing, but your actions are saying something else, your staff might come up with a different conclusion.  You might of thought that you conveyed the changes clearly, but then came to find out that they understood something completely different.  If you are too lackadaisical and show little concern, they will as well.  If you come off as intense and worried, so will they.  You need to act in a way that is relevant to the change.  Keep this in mind whenever you are communicating with your staff.   


  1. Be sure to follow-up to make sure there are no problems related to the change.  Old habits can easily start to creep back into their former state, so it's necessary to stay on top of the situation until you are 100% confident that the change has taken place with no ill effects.


  1. Don’t forget that change is stressful for everyone.  Just because they complied with little resistance does not mean you should take them for granted.  Make it a point to recognize employees for their effort and cooperation.



The text of these materials, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, storing in an informational retrieval system or otherwise, except for students own personal use. The author does specifically disclaim any responsibility for any liability, loss, or risk, personal or otherwise, which is incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, of the use and application of any of the contents of this course. 

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