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Change comes in many different forms. It can be exciting and is essential to business innovation and growth, but it can also occur when a business is in crisis. Common reasons for making change include mergers and acquisitions, changes in personnel, redundancies, physical relocation, restructuring or operational changes to name just a few. Check out Episode 7 from Season 2 of our podcast, Revitalise & Grow, for more tips on managing change.
Regardless of what the changes are or the reasons behind making them, there will always be two guarantees.
- Humans are hard wired to have a natural fear of change and will almost always be initially apprehensive of things they feel unable to control.
- If change is handled badly within an organisation, it can be incredibly disruptive and will have a negative impact that is likely to be time intensive and expensive to rectify.
The good news is that communicating change within your business doesn’t need to be difficult. Here are our top tips for ensuring the process runs smoothly.
Get legal and HR advice:
When facing significant changes within your business, there may be legal reasons why you’re unable to communicate fully with your employees and stakeholders. If you aren’t sure what you’re able to communicate, consulting with a good HR and legal professional is the best place to start. They will ensure you remain compliant with any legal restrictions that might be in place, as well as keeping you on the right side of employment law.
Who needs to be told?
Spend some time thinking about who you need to communicate with. Make a list of all the internal and external stakeholders surrounding your business and consider what they need to know and how the changes you’re making will impact them.
Stakeholders are likely to include employees, customers, investors, shareholders, suppliers, vendors, partners and the media.
Empathy is essential:
Whether communicating exciting growth or managing a crisis, it is essential to take a step back and put yourself into the shoes of those you’re communicating change with. Never assume that everyone will share your feelings about the changes you’re implementing. In fact, when faced with change the first and only thing that most people will care about is, ‘What does this mean for me?’
Change will always mean different things to different people and there is rarely a one size fits all approach when it comes to your change management plan. A good starting point is to write a list of every single question you think your stakeholders might have, before preparing pre-written responses to each question.
Investing time in planning will never be wasted. You will feel better prepared to handle people’s reactions and can ensure a well thought through, consistent and unified approach to the questions you will undoubtedly receive! In turn this will help to instil confidence from your stakeholders, as well as preventing gossip from escalating.
How should people be told?
The methods you use to communicate change will be different for each and every business. In an ideal scenario, significant change should always be communicated face-to-face, but the reality is that very few businesses are set up in a way for this to be a viable option.
Think about the communication channels you already have within your business and consider how they apply to each of your stakeholder groups.
Options may include; virtual briefings or pre recorded videos from senior management, virtual “town hall” meetings, newsletters, email notifications, notice board announcements, social media channels and intranet content, as well as small group and 1-2-1 consultations.
Be prepared to listen:
All stakeholders want to feel valued by the organisations they are associated with. Announcing change is just the start of the process. Your stakeholders will have questions and they will expect to be given the time to discuss any concerns they might have about the changes taking place.
Always ensure that feedback time is included within your change management strategy. You will need to have spokespeople on hand who are happy to listen and respond to any questions and concerns your stakeholders have. You may not be able to keep everyone happy, but you should always care enough to listen well and respond to feedback accordingly.
Communicate the why:
Change is necessary for business survival and growth and most will be implemented for the good of the business and its stakeholders. Whatever changes you’re making, it is essential to provide some context about why they are being made and what this means for the future of the company.
Providing context will help you to craft positive messaging, will demonstrate openness and transparency and will help your stakeholders to understand why you have reached your decision. The more information you are able to provide, the fewer questions you will have to answer.
Change creates change:
Even if you handle everything perfectly, don’t expect that everyone will share your vision. When change occurs within a business it is perfectly natural for this to impact some of the relationships you currently have, and you are likely to see some churn with your employees, customers and suppliers. If your vision no longer aligns with some of the stakeholders associated with your business, it’s ok for them to make a change too.
Remember that change will always open the door for new opportunities, and as long as you plan properly, communicate well and stay true to your values and vision for the business, you won’t go too far wrong.