When I think back to changes I have seen and led in organizations, what really made a difference to me in terms of success or failure is effective communication. This may seem like a given, but the power of effective communication is often overlooked in the overall plan for change. Far too often I have heard about changes well before they were formally announced. Leaders need to be proactive in communicating change rather than trying to put out fires caused by rumors and fear.
Why is effective communication so important? It’s simple, because change is scary. People fear the unknown and the perception of change is that it represents the unknown. The outcome can seem risky and for the risk averse things are fine just the way they are. These fears can be mitigated through communication though. People what to know what the change is, how it impacts them, when it will happen, and why does the change benefit the organization. Some might say that this is too much information and employees don’t really need to know all of this, but they do. Transparency will allow people to be more comfortable with the change because it lessens the fear of the unknown. More information is better, but it should be honest and clear.
I have been involved in changes where people were told what they wanted to hear in order to quell the fear, but this is an ineffective method. Once time passed and the promises turned out to be different than communicated or unfeasible for the organization to deliver on, people became angry and mistrust began to grow with the leadership team. This makes the situation much more difficult than it needs to be. The leaders need to get over their own fear of communicating change (the assumption is that employees will react badly) and understand that open, honest communication is necessary to gain employee buy-in and avoid pushback. This makes implementing change much smoother and encourages trust within organizations.
Can you think of a time when an organization you worked for tried to implement a change without effectively communicating it to the employees? How did it impact your perception of the change?