Human Resources (HR)

9 Strategies for Effectively Communicating Change to Employees (With Examples)

When you hear “change” at work, what is your first reaction? For many employees, the first reaction might be fear, uncertainty, or doubt. Naturally, they will be looking for clear, confident, and positive explanations from leadership. So, how would you as a leader communicate change in a way that builds excitement and positivity?

Clarity and confidence can go a long way in fostering a more positive response from employees. Any clear change management plan includes how the need for change will be communicated. This enables everyone in your organization to adapt in all the necessary ways while minimizing any problems.

We will touch on a few of the key management reports on this topic, then go over the 9 proven strategies for communicating change to employees to inspire confidence and positivity.

If you want to access the templates that will help you craft the right message in the right moments, you can sign up for a Piktochart account for free today.

Why Communicating Change is Critical for Your Organization

Transformation efforts tend to fail. One often-quoted study placed it as high as 70%. This controversial figure is followed up by another study by Towers Watson showing that a minority of employees feel their organization is good at managing change. They found that only a quarter of organizational change initiatives succeed.

This low rate of success can seem jarring. Harvard Business Review and Forbes have determined several reasons for this. Among other factors, they both point to similar top reasons why change initiatives tend to produce very limited success: 

  • A lack of urgency and a coherently communicated plan
  • No guiding coalition to lead employees through the process
  • A lack of vision
  • Not recognizing and celebrating successes early on

Employees often experience concerns whenever a major change is announced:

  • Anxiety over uncertainty
  • Rumors
  • A lack of understanding of the nature of change
  • A lack of trust
  • Fear of loss of position or control

Change at the workplace is constant. But the pace has been speeding up, especially over the past few years. From COVID-19 demanding workforces to adapt to remote work, then navigating back-to-office mandates, to increase in workforce diversity and a shift in meeting employee satisfaction demands, business leaders and communicators have had to manage disruptions like never before.

While the frequency and scale of change increased, it can feel like our capacity to match this demand is lacking. Employees still struggle with the uncertainty and discomfort with major business decisions, such as layoffs or restructuring departments.
A wealth of research points to one major lever that leaders should pull to manage expectations; communication. Studies by McKinsey and others consistently point to strong role modeling and formal reinforcement of success.

9 Proven Strategies to Communicate Change to Employees

Fortunately, there is plenty of space for improvement based on proven strategies. Here are some strategies that could expand upon and improve your existing strategies.

1. Clearly Explain the Need for Change 

There is plenty of room for miscommunication when bringing up any major change. That’s why the first step is to be transparent about any situations where change needs to happen. Considering these changes will affect your staff, being honest will help you with your messaging. So, take ownership of the change and what it might mean for staff. Explain the necessity clearly and put in the open the expected effects on employees’ work days.

Acknowledge the Reality of Change

Clearly explain what challenges or opportunities the organization is facing and why the status quo is no longer viable. Break it down in simple, relatable terms that everyone can understand.

Provide your employees with:

  1. The challenge the business must adapt to
  2. The list of intended goals
  3. A broad overview of the step-by-step process of getting there

In many cases, this won’t alleviate all of their concerns, or even most. But it is greatly preferable to allowing concerns to fester due to uncertainty caused by a lack of communication. Instead, build as much trust as possible by openly acknowledging reality and providing as much certainty as you can.

Change Announcement Example

A generic template for a major change announcement that meets these criteria would look like:

“Dear Team,

Today, we have an important announcement to make regarding imminent and major changes within the company. To adapt to the shifting landscape in our industry, we have determined that we must make strategic adjustments if we are to ensure long-term success.

Change carries with it uncertainty for everyone, and our operations will see major changes in the coming months. But while there is uncertainty, there is enormous potential for further growth and innovation. So, we want to assure you all that we will be as thorough as possible in supporting you through this transition. We will navigate these changes together with resilience and a commitment to the excellence which we have always stood for.

We will continue to work closely with all of you to ensure concerns are addressed and the process is as smooth as possible for all of us. We thank you all for your ongoing dedication as we move forward.”

Provide Context

You will need to elaborate on the information after you’ve provided it.

Back up your recognition of a challenge and your new goals with:

  • Relevant data from any reliable source
  • Market reports on new trends you must adapt to
  • Customer feedback that necessitates change
  • Other hard data

The goal here is to use context to ensure understanding. When you add context, you help everyone see the bigger picture and make sense of the change. This helps prepare them for a shift in the roles they will be performing.

Change Position as a Solution

Position the change as a solution to the reality that necessitated change. Reiterate this point in a way that is positive and optimistic.

Be goal/benefit-oriented when communicating your solution to the challenge. Highlight all the positive benefits that the changes are meant to bring. Emphasize positive outcomes for the business and for individual employees. 

Highlight any improvements to efficiency and long-term growth, seek their input, and invite them to participate.

2. Craft a Compelling Vision and Change Story

There are two great ways to make any mission more inspiring. Storytelling and positive illustration. 

Incorporate storytelling techniques to communicate the need for change. Use anecdotes, case studies, or any type of example to make the mission more relatable and grounded. 

Weave a narrative around proposed changes to make them meaningful on a personal level.

Focus on visually highlighting the positive aspects of the change: 

  • Paint a real, desired picture of the future wherever possible 
  • Use infographics that represent progress to make the message easy to appreciate 
  • Illustrate how the changes align with your business’s values and long-term goals.

Inspire & Engage

As a storytelling method, turn each employee into a protagonist in their own story. Give them a feeling of agency and active participation. 

Present these communications as the antithesis of vulnerability and confusion. This reinforces the message that they are integral to the change and the long-term vision being sought after.

Compelling Vision & Change Story Example

Samantha is a dedicated team leader at a financial firm. She is being put in charge of her team’s shift toward a more customer-centric service delivery approach. This company-wide effort must be seen primarily through her team.

Samantha starts a brainstorming process inviting all team members to make suggestions. She sat them down and encouraged them to envision themselves walking into the firm. Doing so, she encouraged them to act as the protagonists of the change. What would they feel walking in, going through the current process, filling in the forms, installing the app, and so on?

Everyone’s opinions were considered and valued. Every employee was directed to act as a customer advocate. For each important change set in motion, Samantha recognized the people behind the decision.

3. Communicate Regularly Using Multiple Channels

Regular multichannel communication is understood in the digital communications industry to increase the reach of the message and improve both customer and employee engagement.

We’ve focused on giving employees a good start with a sense of purpose and value. To maintain this, it’s crucial to implement clear communication Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). 

Why Regular Communication is Crucial

Without consistent and clear communication, teams can lose focus. You also leave space for individuals to grow confused and/or resentful.

The importance of regular communication is:

  • Reinforcement of the key messages
  • Ensuring key information is accessible to everyone
  • Fostering engagement to promote dialogue, feedback, and clarity
  • Building trust through transparency and involvement

It’s as simple as that.

Communication Channels to Use

There are several channels that should be aligned.

  • Town Halls. Town hall communications ensure everyone hears messaging directly from leaders. Then, everyone can hear directly from those participating in the changes.
  • Email. Email should be the default channel and all regular updates should be communicated here. Send important announcements, updates, progress reports, reminders, and more.
  • Work Messaging Apps. Tools like Slack can be used to facilitate faster communication. This includes one-on-one internal messaging and strategic group chats to promote fluidity. Slack can have channels used for different issues. Compartmentalize groups and announcements in a way that is simple to follow.
  • Project Management Platforms. Tools like Asana or Trello can be used to transparently assign and manage tasks. When used in conjunction with email and messaging, they ensure clarity and structure in operations.
  • Other. You can similarly use internal social media communication, newsletters, bulletins, and internal knowledge bases.

Provide editorial calendar template

4. Engage Employees in Two-Way Dialogue

In addition to the communication channels we’ve mentioned, you need a focus on two-way communication. This must include a method that is anonymous for employees to share their thoughts. 

Anonymous feedback eliminates the concern for being criticized for an idea perceived to be bad. Criticism of a “bad” idea is always a crucial part of improvement and change. 

Consistent two-way dialogue ensures inclusivity, identifies individual concerns, and builds trust. Employees working on the front lines of organizational change will have unique insights to offer. It also ensures that they feel trusted and valuable. 

Focus Groups

Organize small focus groups in addition to large meetings and one-on-one meetings. Make the groups consist of diverse representatives of your departments and teams. 

Use these opportunities to get more structured, in-depth discussions. Encourage in-depth explanations of progress, concerns, and additional suggested changes.

Meetings 

People may skim emails or not fully understand the implications of messages on Slack. Any serious project necessitates time for real-time dialogue. 

Hold regular meetings. Ideally, use a hybrid meetings system that includes an in-office meeting broadcast on Zoom or a similar tool. Encourage everyone to share their concerns at a team level. Separately encourage cross-team dialogue.

Q&A Sessions

Hold Q&A sessions during your meetings and separately from them. Encourage questions of all kinds as well as transparent and honest responses. Take notes for further reference.

Survey & Feedback Systems

Surveys, suggestions, depositories, and similar tools enable closer and more thorough communication. This serves to make communications in the above areas more grounded in reality. 

In some cases, anonymous feedback opportunities will reveal concerns that people would not normally make public.

Successful Employee Dialogue Example

After starting focus groups, a team leader discovers that employees are having trouble with a bug. To discover how big the problem is, they send out a survey that enables anyone to detail their challenges.

After numerous responses detailing what sounds like a major issue, a meeting is called. With the help of the relevant employees, the bug is addressed. Accountability and responsibility are delegated and the action plan is executed.

5. Target Messages to Different Audiences

You can segment communications by relevant employee groupings to make sure communication is meaningful. Supplying employees any amount of information that isn’t relevant to them is decidedly counterproductive.

Fortunately, this is a fairly easy step to implement. Tools like Slack enable you to create specific channels for specific groups. You can then have different channels of communication for different teams, plus larger groups for questions and collaboration.

Email communications can be similarly segmented with relevant contact lists. Of course, different employee groups have different preferences and concerns. So, maximize the relevance of communication by tailoring messaging on a group-by-group basis. 

Targeted Messaging Example

GroupCharacteristicsNeeds & ConcernsPreferred Communication Channels
ManagersOperational focusOperational details, resource managementMeetings, email, two-way dialogue
Frontline employeesOperational roles, customer-facingPractical concerns, job securityMeetings, email, communication apps
Support staffFunctional focusTraining needs, processes, resource allocationEmail, communications apps, ticketing systems, helpdesk software

Different messages need to make it to different groups, with different communication methods. For example, messages for managers should focus on: 

  • Operational concerns
  • Streamlining processes
  • Enhancing collaboration
  • Data accuracy

At the same time, communication with frontline employees should focus on:

  • Practical benefits and challenges of changes
  • Improvements to process efficiency
  • Training and support concerns
  • How changes affect job requirements and security

6. Make Information Relevant and Relatable

Leading experts suggest concise, relevant, and relatable information in communications. This rule stands for emails and all other communication channels. 

When drafting communications to send to employees, keep in mind these “golden rules” for internal communications.

WIIFM

The most important rule can be summed up as “What’s in it for me?” 

This means you need to address employee concerns and questions as directly as possible. Employees will embrace change and contribute to it most effectively when they know how it impacts them personally. 

When explaining upcoming changes and people’s parts in them, highlight this principle.

  • Clearly outline the personal and professional advantages each stakeholder can expect.
  • Emphasize positive changes to their regular processes.
  • Cover benefits to their skills, employability, or general career prospects.
  • Go over any additional details that contribute to their overall job quality.

Address Employee Concerns

Organizational change breeds confusion and anxiety. So, it’s important to proactively find out what employees are concerned about and address it.

In addition to WIIFM communication, encourage a culture of open communication. Encourage employees to bluntly ask their most pressing questions. Foster a space where there is no shame in asking questions about individuals’ or the company’s future.

Example of Relevant, Relatable Content

Imagine communicating a new software solution to front-line staff.

“In order to make your workflows easier, we are onboarding a brand new software solution for inventory management and logistics. This change will make it easier for you to automate key tasks such as restocking inventory. You will be better able to perform your duties on the go thanks to the mobile application. While the shift will be difficult at first, with some determination, you will be able to have a more flexible work arrangement and have more time for higher-level tasks that advance your prospects with our company.”

7. Equip Leaders to Communicate Effectively

Leadership is the ambassador of change and employees will look to leadership for both guidance and confidence. As we mentioned at the start, major consultancies’ studies have demonstrated that organizational change failures often start from the top and work their way down.

Leaders shape employee perceptions with their behavior and choice of words. If attitude and practical changes are required, it’s important that leaders serve as the role models to follow. Otherwise, employees will perceive hypocrisy and become cynical.

McKinsey has found that success rates increase dramatically when senior leaders model the changes they are trying to drive.

How to Prepare Leaders for Change

There are three simple and clear methods for preparing leadership for its crucial role:

  1. Talking points
  2. FAQs
  3. Training and leadership coaching

Talking points provide leaders with key points to communicate and messaging guidelines to follow. They should then align their messages and communication styles. The talking points should cover:

  • The reasons for the change
  • The benefits to everyone involved
  • The ways employees can contribute

You can distribute a comprehensive FAQs document to leaders. This will help them address common and predictable concerns. You can’t be expected to be omniscient, and asking leaders to remember too much can be counterproductive. But preempting objections, wherever possible, maintains professional appearances and reassures employees.

Lastly, leadership coaching may be called for in some situations. In larger and more complex organizations, it’s best to be safe and well-prepared. Leadership coaching has a good success record including up to 788% ROI

8. Leverage Employee Ambassadors and Influencers

Employee ambassadors in an employee change agent network can help smooth the process. This method is less thoroughly studied than the ones we put higher on this list. However, you can easily find copious case studies where these methods made a huge, positive difference.

An employee change agent network is a focus group of passionate, influential, and trusted employees. They can play a crucial role as change ambassadors and champion key initiatives. Together they form a bridge to everyone else and rally support.

Starting a change network is a simple process. Select employees based on:

  • Trust
  • Influence and credibility
  • Communication skills
  • Positive attitude toward change
  • Willingness to assist

If you’re going to use this great strategy, you need to start early. Engaging with employee ambassadors earlier leaves time for preparation and adaptation. Give them whatever they need to be leaders in this process. Of course, reward them accordingly as well.

Employee Ambassadors Example

A business is undergoing a transformation to become a more accessible employer and service provider.  That means more physical accessibility at facilities and accessible customer-facing applications. 

Upper management makes the decision and starts to seek out the right contractors. Existing staff must be trained in accessible design.

Employees who have a history of championing accessibility and working with accessibility features are welcome to volunteer. They will help lead the change and communicate the necessary values and strategies to other employees.

9. Reinforce and Celebrate Progress 

Employees can tolerate change for the sake of long-term goals. But it’s easier to feel good working towards those goals when progress is highlighted and celebrated. The formal recognition and reinforcement of progress is in fact one of the “four building blocks of change” cited by McKinsey.

Continuously highlight and celebrate change during and after the process. Communicate goals and successes reaching those goals to keep engagement and motivation high. Highlight individual contributions and build a culture that celebrates progress and appreciates efforts toward change.

To make this easier, there are several simple, formal tactics that you can easily integrate into the change process:

  • Employee success stories (highlighted in newsletters)
  • Recognition and awards programs
  • Public acknowledgement (meetings)
  • Team events

Consistently reinforcing progress and celebrating the actions that take you there solidifies your change program as a part of your company culture.

a brief infographic on the steps required to communicate change

Next Steps

Efforts to introduce substantial change are prone to failure. People are naturally wary of changes to a comfortable status quo. The changes may be beneficial to them, but they may not understand that naturally.

For change to work, it needs to be:

  • Strategic
  • Well-communicated
  • Employee-centric
  • Reinforced vigorously over time

The breakdowns of many ambitious projects start with communications errors. That’s why we put together this list for you. You can make simple changes to the way you approach change and bring it to your employees. 

These proven strategies shift the real and intended focus of change to the employees that make it happen. You can then keep them on board and proactively involved.

Need some help getting started? Explore Piktochart’s change communication templates to start crafting the right message for your organization today.

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