Change is inevitable for any business as it matures. Whether this is change in overall structure as the company grows, an influx of new team members changes to senior roles or the management team, or relocating to new premises, change can make for an exciting chapter in an organisation’s story.
Though with change comes responsibility, especially when communicating them to your team and clients. Even positive change can raise questions, anxieties and concerns, so it pays to be as prepared as possible when it comes to sharing news. Being mindful of people’s emotions, how they might react, and being aware of the questions they might ask and how you might respond will make the communication process easier for everyone.
First rule: communicate!
The first cardinal rule for managers to remember is to communicate all major changes personally and as early as possible. Don’t let employees find out through the grapevine or from other sources. You run the risk of staff jumping ship if they are surprised by impending changes that they see as threatening their jobs.
There are several approaches that you can take, and things to bear in mind, to prepare yourself as best you can. Preparing a Q&A beforehand, for example, to respond to and reassure team members, and understanding that people will react differently, both positively and negatively, can be an advantage in handling a large team.
It’s also important to consider the wider effects change will bring. Could it impact your team’s lives out of the office? For example, if you’re relocating to another HQ, how can you communicate this effectively? It pays to consider the impact the change will make both inside and out of working hours.
What is the best channel?
Though what are the best ways to communicate change? In times when a ’blanket email’ won’t do, what approaches can business owners take to share their news?
People value dialogue and conversation, so a face-to-face meeting is a must. Yes, it requires much more time than an email would, but it’s far more effective and your team will ultimately thank you for it.
However, try and avoid going to all meetings with detailed and well prepared presentations – they inhibit dialogue. Encourage other people to talk, create a platform for debate, get them to voice and share concerns and ideas and, more importantly, ask them questions. This is a valuable opportunity to get their feedback. This way people feel they have a voice with and can express their views, which helps in the early stages of building acceptance for the change.
Avoid management speak
Frame your messages from your employees’ perspective. We often talk in a language no one outside of the organisation understands. Equally, people at different levels of an organisation may also view changes differently. This can be because of different interests, history, culture or experiences. What people need and expect can also vary depending on their career stage. For example, new starters and those just out of college will need a different communication style compared to those approaching retirement. It’s your job to recognise those differences to get your message across.
Remember that whenever you address your employees, they expect you to be honest and sincere. If you are looking at the floor, speaking quickly and wringing your hands, your employees will question your honesty and integrity. You are honest only if they see you as such.
Read more about how to improve your communication skills:
- Communication techniques from the world of sport
- The importance of communication: Closing the gap between FD and CEO
- Why communication is key to success
Your body language and voice must be consistent with what you’re saying, so plan and consider how you phrase your statements. Obviously, tentative or negative language will be noticed. Words like ‘kind of’, ‘hopefully’ and ‘maybe’ do not inspire confidence or urgency.
Seek feedback and, where possible, take it on board. It’s true that everyone needs time to accept change. Sharing concerns, asking questions and offering ideas can make the process smoother. Allow employees to absorb change and opportunities to participate in the process.
Change is uncomfortable for leadership and employees alike and, though it can make for an exciting time, it isn’t always painless. But it is possible to embrace the process and tackle any obstacles that occur. Always encourage open, two-way communication and you’ll see the long-lasting benefits of investing in your communication strategy.
The better your ability to communicate change, the quicker your team will perform at a high level, and the higher the chance you will be to boost eroding morale and promote company loyalty once again.
Nicky Milligan is managing director at mcm creative group.
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