Don’t Leave Your Employees Hanging: How to Better Communicate Company Changes

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The word “change” can make employees cringe. That’s because organizations often force change on employees with minimal or inconsistent communication.

Wharton Professor Nancy Rothbard has coined a term called the “Black Hole of Change,” which describes the disconnect between how managers feel they are communicating change and how they are really communicating change. According to Wharton@Work, it turns out that managers tend to under-communicate and under-motivate by a factor of 8 to 10.

And it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Managers have probably spent meeting after meeting planning for a change, that by the time it is rolled out, it feels like old news. They have watched the change evolve from the start, so it can be easy to forget to fill in the blanks for everyone else.

Here’s how you can start avoiding the “Black Hole of Change”:

1. Be Positive

Negativity is contagious. When managers react poorly to change, their teams pick up on this negativity, and good luck getting buy-in this way. Instead, be positive and highlight the benefits.

Too many managers get caught up in the way that change is implemented (which can often require more work), rather than communicating the reasons behind the change and how it helps their team. After a change is rolled out, it usually simplifies working conditions for employees, makes their jobs easier, or improves the team’s success in the long run, so highlight these factors.

Of course, this doesn’t always do the trick. There’s nearly always at least one person who actively resists the change, but being positive throughout the process is key to managing it.

2. Get Employee Input

Employees generally have better reactions to change if they feel they have some control about how it is implemented. Getting input from your employees is a crucial step in managing a company transition, and the process doesn’t have to be particularly long, either.

Sending out a survey before and after making a change is a great practice, and you can use the feedback to inform future decision-making and change implementation. I also recommend setting a meeting with your team to openly discuss the change. Having an open dialogue will help employees feel more comfortable with an otherwise uncomfortable change, and it shows that you’re all in it together.

3. Be Clear

Communicating change is all about showing exactly what is about to happen, how it is going to happen, and why it is going to happen. If a process or its ramifications are not yet clear, you’re not ready to implement nor communicate the change. Only communicate and then implement the change when you actually know what’s going to happen (or supposed to happen). Of course, you’ll likely have to improvise along the way, but you should feel confident in the what, the why, and the how of the change before rolling it out.

4. Know When to Ignore These Tips

Naturally, some changes should be communicated and implemented immediately, such as firings, layoffs, and so on. In these cases, communicating change should be done courteously, but immediately and without ado. In this case, communicating change involves talking to the affected workers and being up-front and honest about it. In this case, delay only causes frustration to everyone involved.

Communicating change well means managing your employees well through good communication, and having a process where you’re ready to listen. While it may not always be easy to communicate major changes, always look for the positive, be positive, and talk to your team.

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