If organizations learned one lesson from 2020, it’s that big change has a dramatic impact on employee productivity. Of course, most change doesn’t involve the entire world at the same time. But when any big change happens—reorganization, merger, IT transformation—it’s all anyone talks about. Large portions of town halls are dedicated to discussing the change, emails fill inboxes about what is different and progress reports dominate the intranet homepage. 

But there is an unintended consequence when everyone pays attention to the change: Productivity plummets. Employees spend so much time wondering what’s going to happen that they lose sight of what they need to do to support the organization’s success. And the more leaders communicate about the big news—what’s changing—the less employees understand what they need to do every day.

But not all the work in the organization is connected to the change. In fact, it’s extremely important for the majority of employees to concentrate even harder on their day-to-day responsibilities in order to keep the organization on track.

So how can you keep employees focused on their jobs? Here are five strategies:

1. Reinforce company strategy. Early on during the COVID-19 crisis, leaders completely stopped reinforcing messages about “Here’s what we need to do this year.” When writing messages about the change, be sure they are balanced with content about the organization’s strategy. Coach leaders to find balance in their communication with employees.

2. Put change in context. Senior leaders have an important role in creating understanding about how big the big change really is. Prepare leaders to communicate with specifics: How much of a priority is the change? What percentage of employees are working on this versus doing their jobs as usual? This will help employees understand that the change is not the only thing that matters to the organization.

3. Define expectations. Employees need to know exactly how their role will be impacted and what they need to do differently. Help managers clearly lay out expectations for their direct reports, both as it relates to the change and work outside the scope of the change. Encourage managers to hold regular check-ins with team members to ensure expectations are being met. Some managers may have trouble with this, so a toolkit—including key messages, tips for communication and FAQs—will go a long way to helping them succeed.

4. Encourage non-change conversations. A comprehensive change communication program includes numerous opportunities for employees to ask questions about the change, but what about questions not related to the change? Dedicate time at town halls, define space on your collaboration tool or create an email address solely dedicated to answering questions about work unrelated to the change. But the space alone won’t guarantee employees will come forward with questions. Use proven techniques, such as posing questions for employees to answer, or having leaders post to social platforms, to get the ball rolling.

5. Recognize progress. Communicate about accomplishments, no matter how small. Celebrate when change milestones are met, but also share achievements about the important work that is keeping the company moving. How? Carve out time at each town hall to recognize a few non-change accomplishments and provide tip sheets for managers so they can do the same at team check-ins. These small recognitions will help keep employees motivated to stay on track. 

Change is an important part of the growth of any organization. However, keeping the trains moving is essential during times of change, so you can achieve “business as usual,” even when business isn’t usual.

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