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Ian Ferguson: Producing Change Staff Can Believe In

If you want to know why so many companies sink into chaos, take time to listen to the language used by their leaders. Leadership, at any level, is certainly not easy, but unclear, vague, roller-coaster pronouncements make many top managers’ jobs more difficult than they need to be.

In the absence of clear communication that satisfies the urgent desire to know what the boss is really thinking, people imagine all kinds of motives. The result is often sloppy behaviour and misalignment that can cost a company dearly. Precious time is wasted, rumours abound, talented people lose their focus, and big projects fail.

This becomes particularly important when major change is being proposed in a company. What a leader does, and says, has serious implications for the level of productivity and efficiency in the worksplace.

Here are seven suggestions for communicating the realities of change in your company:

  1. Be clear and honest about what is changing and why

Any sort of spin, sugarcoating or jargon is going to look like you are trying to hide something. You will gain employees’ trust if you use simple, straightforward language, and are completely upfront about what is changing and why. Do not talk down to employees; this only makes them feel resentful and unvalued.

  1. Consider the emotional impact of the change

Human resource-related changes often strike a personal chord with employees. Adjustments to medical or life insurance plans can stir a great deal of uncertainty that requires answers. Take these concerns into consideration when crafting your message, and outright acknowledge them too. Sometimes people just need to feel heard.

  1. Tell employees what is in it for them

It is the age-old marketing adage: What’s in it for me? In times of transition, people naturally resort to selfish mode, looking out for “number one”. Explain the benefits of the change and what employees will get from it. Yes, things will be different- acknowledge that. Yes, everyone may not like what’s changing - acknowledge that, too. But there is generally an upside, so outline that as well. Then thank employees for their patience, co-operation, ongoing contributions to the company and for sticking with you through the shift.

  1. Explain how the change will happen

Employees feel reassured, and are more easily able to get on board, when you paint a clear picture of what is going to happen and when. If you have to use a numbered step-by-step list, do it. If your employees respond well to graphics, use them. Just make sure to set expectations by explaining the process so people can clearly see the road ahead.

  1. Tell employees what they need to do

The infamous call to action. It is critical to outline what needs to be done, and when. This is what people are looking for at the end of a communication, so use bullet points, bold font, links to websites to highlight the necessary action.

  1. Consider the source – and the channels

Change communications are generally best delivered from the top. Develop a cascading messaging strategy that starts with your leaders, and then encourage managers at all levels to discuss the change in more detail with their teams. Make sure to use a variety of media: E-mail, full meetings, company intranet and any other communication methods available.

  1. Open two-way communication channels

During these times of transition, employees need to be heard. Create two-way communication channels where they can ask questions, express their concerns and get answers. A dedicated e-mail alias is a great start, but a town hall (or series of them) goes one step further. Allow employees to ask questions and address all of them, clearly and honestly.

• NB: Ian R Ferguson is a talent management and organisational development consultant, having completed graduate studies with regional and international universities. He has served organsations, both locally and globally, providing relevant solutions to their business growth and development issues. He may be contacted at iferguson@bahamas.com.

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