Executive Education

Strategies for Communicating Change to Your Team

This article comes courtesy of University of Birmingham’s Online MBA Program, designed for enterprising business professionals who are ready to enhance their practical knowledge for the next step in their careers. Find out more about the University of Birmingham Online MBA by clicking here.

When it comes to managing organizational change, there’s a lot of room for missteps to occur. Handled poorly, these changes can create major employee disruption and resistance.

One common, problematic factor employees cite is around communication. They often feel in the dark regarding why change is needed and what the change really means for them. As a result, they grow concerned and suspicious. Before long, these same employees may seek greener pastures where life feels more stable.

To ease the transition process, leaders must enhance their ability to communicate during times of change and treat it as an integral part of change management itself. This topic is of such deep importance to organizational success, it constitutes a module of The University of Birmingham’s 100% Online MBA. Program leader, Dr Pete Foss explains, ‘Anyone looking to create change has to have an awareness of the various issues and approaches to implementing change on the individual, team, or company level. Change advocates require an understanding of the imperatives for the change, and a full scope of the impact to the organization.’

Don’t let lack of communication or poor communication be your change management downfall. Here are the top strategies to help ensure you (and your company) don’t become another cautionary tale.

Explain Challenges Frequently

According to a study conducted by Leadership IQ, nearly two-thirds of leaders fail to explain organizational challenges on an ongoing basis. This means that, when change suddenly appears, employees don’t have the background and context they need to understand why the change is required.

Waiting to address these things at the point of change initiation will only delay the employees’ ability to adapt. Instead, keep them apprised of the challenges the organization is facing as they’re happening. That way, employees can assimilate the information and prepare for the solutions that may be coming (i.e. the changes).

Be as Transparent as Possible

As an organizational leader, you play a pivotal role in how change is received.

You may not be able to offer full transparency regarding the changes that lie ahead. However, whenever possible, share as much as you reasonably can. Employees appreciate honesty and respond well to it, even when it’s difficult to hear.

Articulate Specific Steps and What’s Required of the Team

Nothing heightens anxiety as much as ambiguity. When changes are discussed in vague generalities, employees begin to expect the worst. They may become paralyzed as they wonder what effects it will have on them. As much as possible, try to articulate the specific steps employees need to take in response to the change and what exactly is required of them.

If you don’t know the answer to an employee question or how the change impacts them, let them know, and make a commitment to get the information they need as quickly as possible.

Recognize Emotional Responses

Change is an emotional experience for most people especially in the beginning. It creates feelings of loss, uncertainty and even anger. Ignoring the emotional side of the situation will only make you appear detached. Employees will not see you as one of the team, but rather, as an outside force inflicting pain upon them.

Take the time to address emotions—good, bad and indifferent. Don’t resent the employee who voices dissent or resistance. Recognize that they are sharing valuable information. The emotions themselves are symptoms, but you ultimately want to get to the root cause.

If you’re following the other strategies listed here, you’ve already done a lot to ease the emotions, so now you just need to listen with empathy and compassion.

Allow team members to vent, thank them for being honest, and then gently steer them toward acceptance. However, avoid outwardly agreeing with their feelings. Position yourself as a champion for the change and a supportive partner for the employee. Help them see the opportunity change presents for them and help them manage the disruption.

About the Author

The University of Birmingham is one of the UK’s leading universities and was named 2016’s University of the Year for Graduate Employment by The Times and Sunday Times1. Birmingham is also a member of the Russell Group, a prestigious organisation representing the UK’s top 24 research-led universities.