Organisational change: Why communication is key

Organisational change is unavoidable, whether it be as a result of the changing economic climate, uncertainty surrounding Brexit or a company-wide shake up.

As humans, we are programmed to fear the unknown, and the potential perceived threats brought about by organisational change can quickly lead to catastrophizing as individuals begin to expect the worst and fear for the safety of their role and future status within the organisation.

However, not all change is bad. In fact, organisational change is a constantly evolving entity and even when businesses are doing well, internal leadership restructuring or strategic reshuffles may be required to maximise performance.

Of course, in theory, the latter should be easier to communicate. Nobody enjoys delivering bad news but in the unfortunate instances when it is unavoidable, how the information is communicated can make all the difference and can reduce the negative impacts on employees.

As the individuals on the front line, managers and leaders have a responsibility to ensure they are equipped with the personal and communication skills required to explain change clearly and with the empathy deserving of what can be a difficult conversation.

Approach with clarity and focus

Before any communication with employees, it is crucial that leadership teams are armed with all of the knowledge, reasoning and understanding of the changes facing their team so they are able to convey this information clearly and concisely – and with confidence.

Entering meetings with a script agreed in advance means that management can be as clear as possible whilst also helping to limit the potential for using poor phrasing or giving inaccurate or conflicting information.

Managers must be prepared to not only tell employees organisational change is coming, but to take the time to explain why. Most employees will instantly jump straight to the worst possible scenario and assume that change will impact them negatively, so it’s important to alleviate all concerns where possible and be frank and upfront where necessary.

Employee resistance is the biggest barrier to the success of organisational change, so it is incredibly important that managers do their best to make a solid and convincing case for the changes: why are they occurring, how the transition will be structured and ultimately the benefits it will bring.

Any vagueness at this early stage can lead to confusion or misunderstanding on the part of the employee and limit buy-in, which may cause problems further down the line for the individual, their manager and the company as a whole.

Honesty is the best policy

Managers must be honest with their employees from the onset and not make promises they are unable to keep in a bid to placate or limit stress to the individuals.

While information may be restricted at first, share what information is available at the earliest opportunity. You want to avoid the rumour mill going into overdrive and for incorrect or exaggerated information to trickle down to employees through hearsay.

Transparency can prevent imaginations from running wild. If redundancies are likely, then communicate this as soon as possible. People will work it out for themselves, so it’s important to be honest and avoid them finding out at a later stage or from someone else.

Open lines of communication

Where possible, conversations around organisational change should take place in person. By doing so, you are able to be more aware of an individual’s emotions by observing their body language. There is also an added element of respect that is shown by being present and available in person for any questions, helping to minimise any additional stress on the individual.

Successfully managing organisational change cannot take place in a one-off meeting, it must take the form of ongoing open dialogue between the individual and management which is at the employees discretion. Leaders must make themselves available to answer questions and clarify concerns that may arise for individuals throughout the change process, whilst also making every effort to facilitate as smooth a process as possible.

Explain that this is not the end of the road

A conversation concerning organisational change can feel very ‘final’, particularly when redundancy is the outcome, but the more people-centric and forward-thinking organisations continue to offer support to individuals as they transition out of the business.

If your business makes the decision to offer outplacement support to those impacted by change, management must be clear what exactly is available to employees so that they can communicate it correctly and effectively.

It is important that individuals feel supported and reassured during this challenging time and understand that every effort will be made to help them take their next step.

A partnership for future success

No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but communicating organisational change is part and parcel of a leader or manager’s role and a skill which they must perfect over time.

With the right skills and techniques, bad news can be delivered in a way that minimises disruption, stress and worry to the recipient and rather than being seen as a source of negativity, can create opportunities for individuals.

To support leaders, organisations may consider the option of bringing in specialist support at times of organisational change, helping managers navigate change effectively. The benefits to both your business and your employees are manifold.

Providing outplacement services to people who are impacted by organisational change shows your organisation as a responsible employer that cares about their people. Reputation spreads widely and quickly and companies that do the best by their employees are often the ones that top talent are drawn to and stick with in the long term.