Communication - the key to successfully managing change

If change is something so pervasive, even existential, then why does it feel so difficult to deal with it?

September 30, 2019
“The only thing that is constant is change.”

What Heraclitus(500 BC) already knew, applies today more than ever. Even though humans are masters of adaptation and have learned to deal with new situations all throughout their existence, “change management” has become a modern buzzword and is perceived to be a big new challenge.  

Digital transformation, cultural change management, reorganisations though mergers and acquisitions, business model innovations, driven by disruptive technologies… the list is long. The world and every company are in a process of change. Change management can therefore be defined as the “constant adaptations of company strategies and structures to changing frameworks”.  

Why do we perceive change as challenging?

If change is something so pervasive, even existential, then why does it feel so difficult to deal with it? We constantly hear that employees are afraid of change and even show aversion to it from the start. Why is that?

Change is indeed a big challenge for any organisation. It is not true that people are not willing to change or to adapt themselves to new situations. However, they have to understand the need for such change and how they can contribute. Unfortunately, many organisations neglect to include and inform their employees early on.

It is clear that nobody wants to feel defenceless in a given situation, feel like they are not being noticed or even fear for their livelihood. Therefore, it is essential to inform from the outset about the goal as well as the purpose of a procedure of change.

One of the key factors for success in any change project is adequate and timely communication.

Change is the sum of many individual modifications

It is not enough to invest in the newest technologies, optimised processes, modern offices or a revamped, amazing-sounding mission statement, if the human factor is overlooked. A transition can only be successful when the individuals impacted by this change get involved, believe in it and feel understood. A company culture is not created through temporary measures by a change management team, by some workshops or an inspiring slogan on the website. A culture is lived and shaped daily, by every single employee of a company.

Ultimately, it is the employees, who represent the company’s external image and who significantly contribute to the customer experience. This, in turn, has a huge impact on the success of a company.  (A good example of this is the much-cited story of the bus driver at Disneyland -> The Customer Experience Lessons from the Experts Paul P. Brumby

Communication is key!

Still, how can we get people excited about change? Apart from the already mentioned early communication of the objectives, it is important to know what kind of impact the planned modifications has on the company and on the individual person. What does change mean for me and how can it benefit me?

With any change project we must be sure to communicate with the target audience in mind, as no message can take full effect if it is not understood. Just like in a personal conversation, feelings such as sympathy or resentment towards the person that is communication play a big role. Keep that in mind when choosing the face for the change vision.

Someone who thinks change has been achieved by sending a one-time email, is sadly mistaken. For a person to identify with a change message, they have to hear or read it between five and seven times. And remember the first axiom by Watzlawick: One cannot not communicate!

Make progress visible, reinforce communication with emotions and ask for feedback

In order to communicate successfully during change, we make use of findings from similar fields. What works in an educational context applies also in a business context: messages that are linked to emotions are remembered more easily. You should therefore make sure to emphasise, alongside the classic corporate communication, the entertaining or even funny and relaxed parts of the change you are implementing.

It is also advisable not to rely exclusively on top-down communication. Especially the younger generations (Generations Y & Z) not only want to perceive the purpose of their daily work but they are eager to contribute actively (Impact). Give your employees a voice and improve thereby the Employee Experience. Through content from employees for employees the dialogue between different departments can be strengthened and the horizontal exchange of knowledge and experience promoted.

Once the first positive results emerge, encourage your employees to report on them to share them with others.

Communication is fun and is for everyone! 🚀

Every single person contributes their part to the bigger picture, that is why it is important to have everyone on board. It is important to reach all the employees in your company and not to forget or even exclude someone. The wider the reach, the bigger the relevance. Everyone should feel welcome, respected, relevant and heard. That way the change will be successful for you too!

In the end it is the people that define a company and that decide on success or failure. Give them the attention they deserve and prioritise communication.  

There is nothing more powerful than communication!

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