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Communicating During Change

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When change is required, communication ensures that everyone is on the same page, understands the need for the change, and is committed to the change, not to proving that it isn’t necessary. 

When change affects only one person, a private discussion with that person is often sufficient; if it affects the team, then a team meeting (or several meetings) is called for. A change that affects person X or team A directly, however, may also affect person Y or team B; those at a remove from the immediate change often require their own communications. 

With the widespread organizational change, resistance may originate internally but it can quickly spread to business partners, vendors, and customers. Therefore, organization-wide change requires a high level of both internal and external communications. 

Internal Communications during Change

Successful internal communication depends on:

  • Providing reliable, easily accessed technology dedicated to communication, for example, an intranet
  • Including the people affected by change early on in the decision-making process
  • Recognizing the power of rumor and the need to be clear, consistent, and responsive in communication
  • Personalizing communication to keep information relevant to different groups, functions, or business units 
  • Tracking and measuring the effect of communications, making adjustments as needed.

Clearly, those criteria can be met only if the leaders of change at every level understand the reasons for the change and are comfortable dealing with questions and concerns.

External Communications during Change

Internal changes in a company may affect business partners, vendors, and customers through resulting changes in pricing, products or services, supply chains, and priorities. Part of managing changing is anticipating those outside impacts as much as possible. Successful external communication depends on:

  • Coordination with marketing, public relations, and the executive suite, with a single individual designated as the spokesperson
  • A clear and uniform message that goes out through as many channels as necessary to reach the external people affected
  • Good timing; you don’t want the rumor mill starting before you have your message ready
  • Consideration of how the company might lessen the impact of the change; for example, a substantial price increase.

Home Truths about Communication during Change

In a report titled The Inconvenient Truth About Change Management, McKenzie and Company offered the following home truths, among others:

  • Messages about change that work for or sound good to the executive suite won’t necessarily fair the same when presented to employees or customers because their motivations are different.
  • People are not always motivated by money, either it’s gain or its loss, but more often by the desire for a purpose and by the need for fairness. Communications about change will fail if they ignore those basic needs.
  • The more people are involved in a decision, the more they are committed to it. Part of the benefit of their involvement is they “write their own story”—that is, they come up with their own compelling message about why change is right.

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