My son recently went back to school. In my district, I was given a choice: completely virtual or half-day in person.

Because of the continuing COVID-19 crisis, I agonized over this decision. Is it safe for him to attend in person? How will I balance my work responsibilities? Does he need to see his friends? Will the new procedures be too scary for him?

Thankfully, the school administration provided me with all of the information I needed to make an informed decision. (I’ve heard parents in other districts aren’t as lucky. This parody video sums it up well: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=331905421491665.)

When employees need to take action, they feel anxious as well. So the same principles employed by my school district are effective when communicating change—whether you’re introducing a new policy, updating a benefits package or rolling out a new strategy that affects how people work.

Here’s how you apply those principles to your change communication:

Understand employees’ needs
The first thing our school district did was conduct a survey to understand parents’ expectations and concerns. When the district began communicating to parents, issues identified from the survey were clearly addressed.

To find out what employees are thinking, use quick surveys and focus groups. Then craft communication that helps employees understand the topic. Use simple, conversational language and directly address their concerns.

Use multiple channels
In my town, some parents want to have conversations with the administration, some want to read lengthy emails and plan documents, and some want everything summarized for them. The back-to-school communication included all of the above: virtual Q&A sessions, brief emails, detailed plans for review and in-person orientation meetings.

Employees’ communication preferences are just as varied. To help ensure you reach everyone, be sure to use a good mix of channels, including emails, meetings, intranet articles and posters for non-wired employees. Make the details easily available for those who want even more information.

Answer questions
Each communication from my district included contact information for asking questions. In addition, the principal and guidance counselors hosted several parent Q&A sessions. Although parents asked the same questions repeatedly, the school officials were patient about answering them again and again. They knew that parents needed to vent.

For employees, the preferred way of getting questions answered is to meet with leaders and be able to follow up with managers. Set up Q&A sessions with senior leaders to give employees a chance to ask questions directly. And be sure to arm managers with tools they need to answer employees’ questions.

I wrote this blog while my son was at his first half day of school. Although not every issue has been resolved, I felt that the school district gave me the information I needed to make the right decision. That’s why you should apply these strategies to your communication to help employees confidently take action.

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