Communicating Change

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The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines change management as “the systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and resources to deal with change. Change management means defining and adopting corporate strategies, structures, procedures and technologies to deal with changes in external conditions and the business environment.” [1]

In an ideal world, significant organizational change is managed in this pro-active, organized way. More commonly, however, today’s companies are not systematically managing planned change as much as they’re rapidly responding and reacting to external pressures and emerging opportunities on an ad hoc basis. More often than not, little thought is given to change management until the change is well underway. Regardless, in an environment where change is constant, leaders and managers must, at a minimum, master the ability to effectively communicate about change, whether that change is strategic and well-planned, or agile and opportunistic.

When it comes to communicating about change, people need to know three things before they will accept a proposed change and move forward:

  1. The change is inevitable and will happen with or without them.
  2. The change is necessary at this time—and the compelling reason(s) why it’s necessary.
  3. The direct personal impact of the change and of not changing, should they reject it.

How to Communicate Change

One framework for communicating change that can help you structure messages about change is an adaptation of the Feature/Benefit/Value (FBV) communications framework often used in marketing and sales. This makes sense since much change management communication comes down to winning people over to a new way of doing things or a new way of thinking: in other words, selling the change.

  • Feature: Explain what the change is and what it does. Communicate the nuts and bolts of the change: what exactly changes for the company and what exactly changes for each individual employee?
  • Benefit: How does the change benefit the company and why it is good for the company as a whole? What advantage does the change bring to the company; what pain does it solve for the company; or what risk does it avoid or reduce for the company?
  • Value: How does the change reflect core company values? In doing so, how does the change provide advantage to, solve pain for, or avoid and reduce risk for individual employees?

Who Should Communicate Change?

Who shares the change message with employees is just as important as the message itself. Employees expect (and prefer!) different types of change communication to come from different sources.

Change is Inevitable and Necessary: Employees prefer to hear about the rationale, business case or the “why” of the change from the head of the organization. It makes sense to employees that the big picture information comes from those responsible for setting direction and developing strategy. The most common method for sharing this information is through a presentation to a large group, often the entire organization.

What Change Means to Me: On the other hand, when it comes to discussing the personal impact issues; employees prefer to have their questions answered face-to-face by their immediate supervisor; either in small groups or individually. 

Even if there is no time to plan a comprehensive change management strategy, taking the time to ensure that messages address the for both the organization and individual employees, and choosing the appropriate sources to deliver those messages, will go a long way toward reducing the challenge of constant change.  


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