Any kind of organisational change is doomed to fail when effective communication does not happen during the all- important process.

What actually happens is that change proponents often present pre-decided change strategies and expect employees to change accordingly. Little wonder then that the sceptical employees react rather unfavourably.

Anxiety, uncertainty and instability further reinforce the initial resistance and employees resolutely refuse to let go of their tried-and-tested ways or learn new ones.

Moreover, the change sponsors often forget that change is primarily about people. Successful change – be it a simple change in pay/benefits or crucial changes in business process, change in leadership or layoffs, merger or acquisition demands proper buy-in from the staff. And this can be achieved through effective communication.

An informed workforce is actually the strongest asset for organisational change. Once the employees comprehend and agree with the need for change, they will start feeling involved and committed.

Managing the people side of change

Effective communication is critical for change integration. Senior managers should use it like a marketing tool to build awareness about the necessity for change, and how it will ultimately affect the workforce.

Change management practitioners opine that this calls for a strategic communication plan about change.

The management should communicate:

A compelling rationale clearly underlining the context, purpose and business reasons for change – like cost-saving, raising success quotient and so on.

Describe how the organisation will be after the change is completed while underlining the risks if it does not change.

The vision, mission, scope and objectives of the change management efforts along with when and how the change will take place.

Reveal relevant data like industry projections, financial information, customer feedback, expected challenges, etc.

Effect on employees – implications on day-to-day activities, job security and how the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Change is in the interests of employees.

Employees' specific roles and expectations in achieving the change.

Measurements for charting progress of the change management efforts.

Regular status and progress updates of what is happening and why.

Companies should use multiple channels to communicate the message like meetings, presentations, intranet, videos, webcasts, memos, emails, faxes, bulletin boards, posters, newsletters, workshops and training. Organising focus groups, forums and other discussions will enable employees to explore the changes, new behaviours and even generate new ideas.

Informal communication by mingling with the employees during breaks or lunch hours to discuss the changes more casually and clarify any misconceptions will be effective.

Generally, the preferred communicators are the top people in charge and the one closest, i.e., the CEO or the change sponsor and the immediate supervisor that the employees report to. Whoever may be the communicator, the messages should not contradict each other. Also, every small success, accomplishment and positive approach towards change needs to be celebrated with appropriate rewards and recognition.

Apart from this, communication should always be two-way. So, employees need time to digest the information and they should be allowed to ask questions to clarify their doubts and concerns. The management should provide credible answers without getting defensive or making excuses.

It should be receptive to feedback and inputs from the employees as they will be the ones ultimately implementing the change.

Above all, the change communication needs to be honest, authentic, reliable, frequent and consistent with organisational values. The content should connect with the audience.

Key messages should be repeated often across various channels. Confidence in the management's ability to make a successful change needs to be established. To sum up, the key tools for leading a successful change management initiative are better and more communication.

Payal Chanania