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Communication During Change

Don’t rush to inspire: inform first.

When thinking about what and how to communicate a change initiative to your team, consider that people will react differently to the news; they will assimilate them differently and at different stages. It might therefore be unwise to insist at the beginning of the process that change will bring with it wonderful things, when people might be confused, or even scared.

Karl G Schoemer, in his book ‘Change is Your Competitive Advantage’, defines three types of communication, with relation to leading others through change:

  1. Informative communication
  2. Supportive communication and
  3. Inspirational communication.

Schoemer suggests selecting each different type of communication to suit each individual and the stage in the assimilation of change at which they are at. Or, if you need to create one piece of communication to address many people (a speech or a memo for example) then he suggests using each mode in the order presented above.

Let’s have a look at teach type of communication.

Informative Communication

When hearing about a change, it is difficult to decide what it means to us until we have some details (unless of course, you’re incredibly happy or incredibly fed up with your current situation).

In the early stages of implementing change, it is worth addressing who, what, where, when and how, the plans and schedules currently in place, why the change is necessary and how it will benefit individuals, teams, the organisation and the end users or customers.

Depending on the complexity of the change, you will be able to give more or less details during your initial communications or conversations. If the change is a complex one, then give a timeframe of when more details will be provided.

There is little point in going straight into the “inspirational talk” when your team members don’t really understand the nature of the change. Unlike you, they might have only heard rumours about plans or might not even be aware that change is on its way. Try to bring them up to speed before letting them know how much better off they will be in the long-term. Even before you try to inspire them, you will need to show them some support.

Supportive communication

Showing appreciation to those undergoing change is vital. It takes a lot of effort to change and there are few things as unmotivating as not having your efforts recognised.

Appreciating everyone’s efforts, celebrating good results and acknowledging that change is not always easy, can all go a long way to help morale.

Inspirational Communication

Once your team members know how the change will affect them and are beginning to adapt to the new way of working, they will be more open to hearing you talk about how great the change is going to be for everyone.

This can, of course, be difficult if the change is a restructure that has involved redundancies. In this case, it is worth emphasising the need to find new ways of working as soon as possible in order to arrive at the point where you all feel like you are working at your best. This does not mean of course asking everyone to forget how things were (remember William Bridges’ point “treat the past with respect”), but identify if there are ways in which the team can build on previous successes to find a new optimum way of operating.

I cannot emphasise enough the need for communication. Nothing is as clear cut as the suggestion above, but hopefully this will help you to keep everyone on track. The important thing to remember is that the way in which you communicate will need to change with time and will depend on who you are communicating with – not just due to the different behaviours and personalities in your team, but also due to where they are in the process to change.

For more on the need to accept change in business, I recommend Change is Your Competitive Advantage: Strategies for Adapting, Transforming, and Succeeding in the New Business Reality.

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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in change, leadership


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