At the office, change is the kind of news that can throw employees for a productivity-killing loop. But it doesn't just affect employees: Transitions and transformations are stress-inducing to business owners as well, especially those responsible for actually managing the change that occurs.
Whether it's an adjustment to emerging technology or the kind of personnel and structural reforms that come with growth, it's crucial that there are open channels of communication and empathetic leadership. If communicating what's coming next to your employees is a duty that begins (and ends) at your desk, then success rides on the way you bring workers on board with new directions.
"Begin your communication with the end in mind," suggests Don Phin, vice president of strategic business solutions at HR That Works. "Is this going to cause a loss of jobs? Move people around? Require a bunch of training? Most importantly, why should your employees embrace the change?" If you know the end goal, you can relay all pertinent information more easily.
Communicating the when and how of any big change—and doing it well—is deeply intertwined with minimizing the pain that can come with transitions. To that end, let's turn to some experts for the five best strategies for conveying your dedication to the business you built, all the while implementing changes for an even greater future.
1. Make a Map
In a white paper on workplace change, Michael Bennett suggests that having a communication plan on paper helps ensure an orderly and logical route through the process. Employees need to understand that the change that's coming is a thought-out process—and that the end results come from a thoughtful management model.
Create a chart that shows which employees are to be spoken to by whom, on which dates and at what times. Summarize what they're to be told, in print. Every step should be clearly defined and laid out for your change team to see. If something alters the intended flow of information, it's apparent at a glance which team members can be activated to control the effects until the new situation is resolved.
2. Role Play Key Situations
Have your principal communicators role play what they're going to say ahead of time. In the role-playing scenario, tough responses can be tackled in a lower pressure environment and explanations can be refined. Jacob Morgan, a principal at Chess Media Group and author of The Future of Work, offers an example: "Instead of saying 'This will allow the company to become more profitable,' you might say, 'These new technologies will allow employees to have flexible work environments, reduce content duplication and improve the overall employee experience.' " Practice makes for better answers, and better answers build trust, reinforcing the idea that leaders respect the people they're leading.
3. Call in HR for Support
As change is happening, having HR at your side helps tremendously. Get them involved—and stay in touch with them—before, during and after change implementation. Have HR track the intended communications and results. Leave a paper trail, not only for potentially thorny reasons—such as the media catching wind and wanting a statement about what's new—but also so your business can continue to benefit from what worked best about your strategy.
4. Follow up With Employees
Go back to your employees for more information. "Bring them together the morning [after you explain the change] to ask for questions again," says Robert Preziosi, a professor of leadership at H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University. "You need to give them the opportunity to sleep on it … The real key is having them all together so they can feel a part of the big picture. Once that occurs, they can meet with their individual supervisors to begin to understand any parts of the change that are unique to their department."
Evaluate their responses, and keep a careful eye on their work output and office crosstalk. These can be important indicators of whether the changes are being absorbed successfully, or that still more coaching and caretaking is necessary to complete your institutional shift.
5. Practice Patience
Understand that your employees' confidence can be fragile during this period. Implementing additional changes—or, worse, backtracking—before you have time to evaluate what the first round of transformation has brought about could undermine the good communication you just finished conducting.
Take action, then take time: Change is about patience on your part as much as it is about expecting trust and cooperation from your employees. Part of communicating change effectively is to afford everyone the chance to adopt it—and to adapt to it.
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