7.08.2013

Six Tips for Communicating Change

Over the years, I've been charged with communicating change with masses of people. Difficult changes, like impending mergers & acquisitions, staff reductions and dissolution of major business partnerships.

Here's what I learned: unless the change is an increase in fortune or free desserts for the remainder of time, the first reaction to change is almost always defensiveness and alarm. Human nature, perhaps, but over the years I've learned a few tricks to ease transitions and make change a bit easier:

Six Tips for Communicating Change:
  1. Determine why change is needed. This develops your focus for communications and helps clarify there is an important benefit to the change. (You'd be shocked how many changes are made just for the sake of switching things up. Almost always a dumb move.)
  2. Identify ALL of your audiences. Last year my daughter's school implemented a major overhaul to the carpool system. They failed to communicate the new system to the kids and failed to communicate with parents so we could review with our kids at home. The result was lots of confused, sweaty, hungry, often crying small children packed into a small space at an elementary school. And a whole batch of unhappy parents. Sounds fun, yes? Make sure you've thought through every single audience the change will impact and develop a strategy for communicating with each one.
  3. Communicate their benefit first, not yours. Starting a communication with "how this change helps the company" just stirs a sense of injustice amongst the masses. You must first communicate how this change helps your audience. Give 'um a cause they can get behind -- or at the very least not argue against. 
  4. Communicate early. Get cracking on a clear communication about the change, along with a timeline, as soon as your strategy is set. The longer people have to wrap their heads around change, the better they tend to accept it. 
  5. Communicate often. Update your audiences on the process. Share the victories, address the issues, and ask for continued patience. When people hear updates, they are more likely to support the change throughout the process. 
  6. Welcome feedback. Give your audiences an opportunity to voice concerns and offer suggestions -- then address those concerns and suggestions. You don't have to respond to every single complaint, but make an effort to let your audiences know you hear them. Even if you don't make the changes they request, it helps them to know you are listening.
Have you recently had a change (maybe from your company, your bank, or your kids' school) communicated with you? Did they do a good job communicating the change? Why or why not?
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