In a period where organisations are increasingly looking to make ongoing changes to improve efficiencies, utilise new technologies, lower costs and change their structures to allow closer connections with customers and stakeholders, change communications is a vital tool in the communications toolbox.
Especially given employees are, in many cases, being asked to help identify how organisations and teams can work better, and how they can meet their own changing expectations of what they want from work.
Chat GPT will tell you, ‘change communications is crucial for organisations undergoing transitions, whether it's a change in leadership, organisational structure, processes, or culture. Effective communication helps manage uncertainty, build trust, and facilitate a smooth transition.’ It will also record 13 key principles for change communications. These range from ‘Clear purpose and vision’ to ‘Two-way communication’, and from ‘Engagement and involvement’ to ‘Honesty and transparency’ and ‘Leadership visibility’.
While all are important, the last two are vital.
How often have we seen corporate jargon used extensively and a lack of trust in management as people are ‘spoken to’ and then only given indirect and predominantly written options for providing their feedback?
A lack of direct engagement opportunities to discuss options and see the body language of managers, and to talk through personal questions and fears (what will this mean for me?), are often primary reasons change processes fail.
While people may not like the rationale or agree with the recommended option(s) or final decisions, they need to have confidence that they will have an opportunity to participate in a consultation process, that they will be heard, that their views are valid, that they will have a reasonable period to formulate and present their views and ideas, and finally, that they will have the decisions made explained to them in a reasoned way, without all the jargon.
It seems such a basic thing to say that ‘leaders need to lead’. During change, leaders need to be seen to lead. They need to ensure their thinking and vison is understood. They need to be ensuring there are no gaps that allow suspicion and distrust to develop and fester. And they need to be providing ongoing opportunities to personally listen, discuss and communicate. Honestly. Transparently. And consistently.
While change is disruptive and sometimes scary for some, a respected process supported by open communications will deliver the best outcome. Not only do team members get the opportunity to put forward their points of agreement and disagreement, they also have the chance to advocate for how things can be done better, for customers, stakeholders (internal and external) and themselves.
Like the saying often attributed to American author and leadership expert Thomas Gordon goes, “If you want people to act like adults, then you should treat them like adults.”