Communicating About Change

There’s an inbuilt problem with change processes. Few people know about them before they are launched, often with great fanfare. And that can come as an unpleasant surprise, leading people to doubt the motives of the change leaders and to wonder what other “bad news” might follow.

Now, there are good reasons why preparing for change often takes place in the background. Leaders understandably want to avoid unsettling staff about changes that might not need to be made. There might be staffing implications, and they don’t want morale affected. There may be a range of options in consideration, with the final decision not yet clear.

By the time the change initiative is announced, the change team has typically comes to terms with what needs to be done. However, the people affected by the change might not even be aware of challenges being addressed by the change. Or they might wonder why alternative approaches were not adopted.

We can see a mis-match in the awareness and expectations of everyone involved. Leaders wonder why staff don’t appreciate all the hard work of analysis and deliberation that has led to this ‘reasonable solution.’ And staff don’t understand why leaders could not have informed them earlier that change would be needed, or that other, simpler, options were not selected instead.

In reality, there is no simple way to resolve the dilemma of when to communicate about change.

So what this means for leaders of change is that they should pay attention to how news of the change will land on staff (this is where a stakeholder analysis can provide useful information).

Attend not only to the Content of the Change message, but also the Emotional Setting of the recipients of this news. It can be helpful to invest in communication related to:

  • WHY CHANGE? Provide information about why the change is needed. Draw on information from the Context Map to explain how the change team assessed the current situation and the options facing the organization.
  • WHAT IS THE CHANGE? Try to reduce ambiguity by specifying what will be changing, what might change, and what will not be changing. While all the details of the change might not be clear at the start, it can help reduce anxiety when staff understand the boundaries of what is changing.
  • HOW WILL THIS TAKE PLACE? Describe the plan for change, pointing to the main phases. Explain that the plan will be adjusted based on experience and any changes in the broader environment.
  • WHEN WILL IT AFFECT ME? Let staff know about the timeline for change. While this may be revised, it can help people see when they can expect things to shift.

These messages will need to be communicated more than once. And a recap of them can be helpful when providing progress updates, reminding staff of why the changes were needed and the goal towards which the change is moving.

There may be one more question that staff have, and you should be prepared for it:

  • CAN I BE INVOLVED IN SHAPING AND IMPLEMENTING THIS CHANGE? People are more likely to accept the need for change when they feel they have a voice in the change process. They feel a sense of agency and empowerment when they can inform and influence how the change is carried out.
    • This should be a meaningful role, not token participation.
    • Adding the perspectives of those closest to the change helps the ‘rolling plan’ process stay relevant to the actual conditions that need to be tackled.


Do you find resources like this useful? Contact me to learn more about how I support leaders as they manage change and growth.

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