Get employees on board with the organizational change communication plan

These days, change is almost a constant in the workplace — almost every day, it seems that there‘s another merger, new leadership, an outsourcing, a new benefits program, layoffs and more. Because of this, communicating change has become more challenging. Leaders are overwhelmed, managers aren’t engaged and employees are change-fatigued.

How can you overcome these obstacles? Try something new! Take the opportunity to step away from “the way we always do things” and implement an approach you haven’t tried before. A small innovation can make a big difference to help improve your employee communication strategy.

Here are seven things I’ve learned that can help you discover new solutions for your next big change:

1. Leaders are people too, so they feel the same anxiety and uncertainty employees do.

Your CEO may understand his role, but the leaders who report to him — and the VPs on the next level — may not see themselves as key change communicators. Here are four reasons why:

· Lack of knowledge: Don’t understand the topic well enough to present it, interpret it or answer questions about it

· Unclear expectations: Don’t know that communication is expected of them; that it’s a key role

· No accountability: Aren’t held responsible for communicating

· Insufficient communication skills: Aren’t comfortable presenting information, answering questions or responding to concerns

Create an opportunity to ease anxiety and prepare them for their roles.

· Make sure leaders have the chance to learn what’s changing, where and when; this is best done through a face-to-face session with senior management.

· At the session, provide an overview of the upcoming change to emphasize how important it is that leaders meet with employees in their areas.

· Follow up with a guide that further articulates a leader’s role, and gives them essential tools to fulfill that role, including key messages and frequently asked questions. It’s also helpful to provide a checklist that provides concrete steps they can take to ensure employees understand and act on a change.

2. Training camp isn’t just for the army — it also helps prepare managers for their key role in change communication.

Although leaders are expected to know all the details about the change, managers are the people that employees go to first with their questions. It’s important to prepare managers for this so they don’t feel blind-sided.

· Invite managers to participate in change workshops. Facilitate exercises that require managers with different roles to solve business challenges together.

· Hold an interactive brainstorming session where managers are asked to contribute ideas and potential solutions to questions.

· Encourage managers to participate in Web-based sessions, which are a convenient and affordable way to enhance their skills and knowledge. You can also provide access to on-demand learning that managers can access quickly when faced with a challenge.

3. Change champions are the key to reducing toxic gossip.

When change is significant, leading organizations often recruit “change champions” or “change agents.” These advocates are selected from across the company to become knowledgeable about the change, and to share that knowledge with those in their part of the organization. Such efforts work most effectively when advocates clearly understand their roles and are well prepared to communicate.

4. Games can help engage employees in change.

“Play” is an experience we value and often expect, and gamification provides creative ways to communicate with employees. The question for communicators: How do we create opportunities to be a part of the action, in a fun, engaging, absorbing way? Here are two examples to use at a meeting:

· Teams play a board game involving clues, prompts and queries, hoping to be the first to reach the goal. How you’ll win: Employees gain valuable knowledge and practice, increasing change adoption.

· Teams create a group art project–using tools such as crayons, blocks and stickers–to depict what the change will “look” like. How you’ll win: Employees get to combine fun with learning, getting familiar with the changes using out-of-the box thinking.

5. FAQs are a great way to understand employee concerns.

Imagine the toughest, most challenging employee you know. Then, draft questions that person would ask and answer as candidly as possible.

Better yet, see if your change management team conducted a stakeholder analysis. This document outlines the potential challenges for different stakeholder groups, which may feed your thinking about employees’ questions.

In our experience, an FAQ document is the resource managers prefer most. The key is to include the toughest questions so managers are ready any time team members approach them with a question. Why it helps: Managers don’t have all the answers. If you provide comprehensive FAQs, managers will be more willing to have an open-door policy on the change topic.

Another approach is to compile the questions asked at face-to-face sessions and online. Ask leaders and managers what they’re hearing. And look for opportunities to craft communication to respond to employees’ questions and concerns.

6. Surveys during change can increase engagement.

IBM conducted research that says fielding more surveys during organizational change is a good thing.

Here’s an example from the report.

When comparing companies that went through layoffs with those that didn’t, you see an expected drop in engagement (–23 points):

a. Companies that laid off employees: 36% engagement index score

b. Companies without a layoff: 59% engagement index score

But if an organization surveys during a layoff, the engagement score increases — minimizing the negative impact of the change:

c. Layoffs without surveying: 36% engagement index score

d. Layoffs with surveying: 55% engagement index score

e. No layoffs: 59% engagement index score

7. You can’t eliminate change anxiety, but you can influence it.

By the time leaders are ready to introduce a change, they’ve been working with the issue for months. But employees are hearing it for the first time, so they need reinforcement. Here are three ways to help tame employee change anxiety:

· Help leaders and managers be good listeners. Letting people give voice to their anxieties has been proven by researchers to release tension.

· The best way for employees to envision change is through real-life scenarios. Encourage leaders and managers to use examples of daily work issues that employees can identify with. This approach will make it easier for managers to explain what change looks like and how employees can take action.

· Your colleagues who manage external social media know that good news can have a positive effect on buzz. So, develop success stories — examples of how change is working — to influence the buzz. The most effective examples are real employees telling their own stories. Use traditional internal communication channels or seek new ways to share employee experiences.

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