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4 key elements to communicating change

This guest post is from Katherine Coble, APR, senior vice president at Borshoff, an advertising, branding and public relations firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

There have been all sorts of articles over the years about obstacles to change and the difference between change leadership and change management. Major organizational change can fail for a number of reasons if the change isn’t planned or executed effectively.

And while communicating organizational change is only a part of what makes major change successful, it’s a critical part that requires strategy, creativity and intentional effort.

Here are four elements to consider as you communicate major change in your organization:

  • Make your employees a part of the conversation. In an ideal world, leaders would make employees a part of the actual planning of a change. But even if change is pushed down from the top without employee input, making them a part of the conversation as you communicate change can go a long way to ensuring they understand, adopt and even advocate for the change you are trying to make.
  • Address the elephant in the room early. Change is hard, and it often requires sacrifice or acceptance of the unknown. It’s important to frankly and clearly address any downside when you’re communicating what’s going to take place. Pretending that everything is going to be great and the change will be easy is asking for trouble, and no one will believe you.
  •  Repeat, repeat and then repeat again. Just because you’ve told your employees about a change doesn’t mean they get it, understand it and love it after hearing it once. Build some redundancies into your communication plan. You may be sick of hearing about it, but they may not fully grasp the extent of the change after hearing one announcement. Make sure they get many opportunities to hear the message, ask questions and check understanding. And make sure your entire leadership team and supervisors are repeating the same, consistent message, too.
  • Keep it simple and stay linear, but share the end goal early. You don’t want to overwhelm people with too many details, but you want to be transparent and forthcoming. Paint a clear and compelling picture of what your end goal is in making the change, but quickly move back to the current day and walk people through the steps it’s going to take to get there in the short term. Communicating a message that builds from the starting point to the end goal will help people know where they are at in the spectrum of change and the progress they’re making, without getting them distracted by details in the middle.

In the end, change is only successful if it makes sense and people embrace it. They can’t embrace it if you don’t clearly communicate it to them in a way that compels them to join you. If the change is poorly designed, no amount of clever communication will make it successful. Remember, actions always speak louder than words.

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