Communication plays a key role in change management. When a company decides to make changes that might have adverse effects (or be perceived as having adverse effects) on employees, the methods by which the news is communicated can be critically important. If handled poorly, news of a change can damage morale and productivity. If handled well, employees may understand the need for changes and accept them.
Here are tips for communicating change management from experts in the field.
Carefully consider the reasons behind planned changes. According to Paychex HR consultant Rob Sanders, any organization contemplating changes to policies or benefits that could be perceived negatively by employees should consider the following questions beforehand:
- What is the driving business need for making such a change?
- Are the reasons based on financial, operational, legal, or other needs?
- Can this need be addressed through other means that might not adversely impact employees?
- Is there time to allow for discussion or feedback sessions with a focus group of employees?
"Before simply implementing a 'mandate from above,' companies may benefit from an open discussion with employees who may suggest actionable alternatives and/or consequences that management may not have considered," Sanders says.
Make a plan and stick to it. "Having a plan is key," says Matt Keup, Paychex HR services area manager. "That plan, if managed properly, should confirm that the change you're implementing has a high probability of successfully generating the desired result."
As part of that plan, he adds, it's important to "identify the scope of impact and share that knowledge with managers whose employees will be affected by the change. The known is generally much easier to manage and communicate than the vague."
Provide advance notice. "When communicating changes, provide as much advanced notice of the change as possible," notes Paychex HR consultant Melissa L. Wheeler. "This way, employees have the opportunity to ask questions. At the same time, be honest and transparent in answering those questions. If changes are occurring and they're not effectively communicated, people may speculate and assume the worst."
Strive for clarity in your communications. If, for example, there are planned changes in health insurance and employee benefits, it's essential that your intended message be as clear as possible. Some employees may not be familiar with industry jargon, and including technical terms may lead to greater confusion and uncertainty – the opposite of your desired outcome. Be ready to explain any industry jargon you feel is necessary to include with your communications.
Create a method for collecting feedback after change is implemented. Sanders recommends having a mechanism in place after change is implemented to gather employee feedback – an electronic help desk, for example, or an actual person who can be available to answer questions. This mechanism should be able to respond to feedback in a timely and caring fashion.
Offer support to adjust to the changes. As Paychex HR generalist Victoria Whittaker notes, "It's very important to communicate the reason and necessity for the changes, as well as how employees may benefit from the changes. Let them know you'll help support and provide training and/or systems needed to adjust to the coming changes."
There may be times when it's necessary to let employees know of changes that may affect them. Careful planning, as well as offering opportunities for feedback, can help mitigate adverse impact to employee morale and productivity.