Communicating Change Does Not Have to Be Hard
Change is inevitable in business.
In fact the graveyard of companies refusing to change fast enough or in the right directions include such tombstones as Blockbuster, Montgomery Wards, Circuit City and The Sharper Image. Accepting change as a necessary process of healthy business evolution makes it possible for leaders to communicate effectively to reduce the employee anxiety that change inevitably produces.
Whether we realize or not, we generally go about our daily lives constantly thinking about and interpreting the situations we find ourselves in. Psychologists termed this inner voice ‘self-talk‘, and it includes our conscious thoughts, unconscious assumptions and beliefs. During times of stress, this self talk is often skewed towards the negative, and sometimes it’s just plain wrong.
That’s why it’s useful to keep an eye on what employees tell themselves, and challenge some of the negative aspects of their thinking. Tell employees what you can, even if that means telling them you are not in a position to tell them much. Encourage employees to test their theories against reality - what is the evidence for or against their assumptions? Are their alternative explanations for company actions? In the broader perspective, how important is this really?
There is no substitute for being authentic and honest with people. Remember EVERYONE is watching how their leaders behave during these times - especially those employees you will count on to carry the business forward after the change. In addition, many organizations make the mistake of over-relying on emails, written materials or intranet postings to carry most of the load for communication. Communication is more than just conveying information; it should also connote calm, assurance and that there is an organized plan in place to handle the uncertainties of the situation. Research suggests up to 90% of good communication is non-verbal; a speaker's voice inflections, posture, appearing calm or nervous has a tremendous impact on what the audience concludes from the interaction.
Communicating change does not have to feel so daunting and confusing. If we can remember that we have relationships with our employees, we can feel our way through by considering their feelings and needs during these stressful times. We relied on them to run our business thus far, so we should trust and respect them enough to be as open, honest and sensitive as we can. The best way to get respect from others is to respect them first.