The ancient philosopher Heraclitus is best known for his observation that “change is the only constant in life.” This short phrase perfectly sums up most companies today. From large-scale acquisitions to organizational changes to new company strategies, things are constantly in flux.

This perpetual change can have a negative effect on employees. After all, not knowing what’s going to happen is bound to make people uneasy. What you need is a change communication program that provides employees with pertinent information.

Where to begin? By determining employees’ perceptions — their overall attitudes, as well as what’s on their minds about the upcoming change. To do so, use these four assessment methods:

1. Draft a short survey.
Create a pulse survey with 10 to 15 questions that capture the essence of employees’ attitudes. Measure:

  • Attitudes about the perceived change

  • Understanding of the change

  • Concerns

  • Knowledge about what they need to do differently

  • Beliefs in how the change benefits the company

2. Conduct employee focus groups.
While a survey can tell you what employees are feeling about the change, a focus group can help you understand why employees feel the way they do.

  • Gather employees from a sample of demographics and organize several focus groups.

  • Ask for examples of how the change affected each participant individually.

  • Then start diving a little deeper into what each person thinks about the change.

  • Make sure you ask participants what concerns they have.

3. Hold informal coffee chats with leaders.
Schedule time for a senior leader to sit down and chat with employees. Lunches or coffee breaks provide a perfect atmosphere to get employees talking while leaders listen. Don’t draft an agenda or design PowerPoint slides. Just let it be a natural conversation. However, you may want to provide the leader with a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), so he or she is ready to speak accurately about the change. By the end of the conversation, the leader will have a better understanding of employees’ issues.

4. Analyze categories of questions.
Some employees may speak up at company town halls. Others may be more comfortable posing questions on the intranet. Look across all of your company’s two-way communication channels and look for trends in questions or comments that could indicate attitudes towards the change.

Once you know what’s on employees’ minds, develop a change communication program that takes into account various employee audiences, what they need to know and when they need to know it.

  1. Identify your audiences. Make a list of all the groups of stakeholders who are impacted by the change. Then, segment employees into groups based on how the change will affect them. Some employees may need different levels of detail than others based on what’s expected of them.
  2. Define objectives. Now that you know who your audiences are, think about the desired outcome for each group. Ask yourself what you want each stakeholder segment to know, believe and do as a result of your communication. These objectives will drive the rest of your change communication.
  3. Develop key messages. Telling a consistent story is key for managing anxiety. An elevator pitch is a two- to three-sentence overview of what’s changing, why and what impact it will have on the company. The idea is to quickly provide the essential information — as if you only had an elevator ride to explain the entire situation to another person. Make sure you:
    • Explain what is and what isn’t changing
    • Share why the change is happening
    • Tell employees if and how they will be impacted
    • Communicate what employees need to do
  4. Decide on strategies. Now that you know what your plan needs to do, it’s time to decide how you are going to communicate. There are many approaches you can take, but whichever you decide, your strategies need to align with your objectives.

One essential strategy will be supporting leaders with communication. Some employees may be skeptical about the change, so it’s important that your company’s leaders are all on board ahead of time. Arm leaders with tools — like FAQs and talking points so they are fully prepared to speak with employees and answer questions. These should be drafted using conversational language.

In our current business climate, organizational change is inevitable. Taking the time to plan ahead will alleviate anxiety and help employees feel secure the next time a big change rolls around.

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