Last night I had dinner with eight other senior communicators charged with communicating change to employees in their organizations. Here are some simple truths that emerged from our conversation:

Communicating change is not primarily about:

  • Repeating key messages, especially in slides embedded in emails
  • Cascading messages down for project leaders to deliver
  • Using the latest and greatest tech tools, like yammer, jive, and slack

Communicating change is about:

  • Relationships and trust-building between company leaders and employees
  • Listening, and understanding how employees respond to change. Though some may be anxious about change, not everyone resists change!
  • Understanding what motivates people. Remember that employees in various positions and places within a company may have differing perspectives. Tell employees what’s in it for them. Give them – especially those in conceptual or creative jobs — the freedom and autonomy to do their best work vs. relying on incentives (like money) to do the work.

Build into your communications plan:

  • Executive involvement, first and foremost: Train executives how to communicate change – they’ll be grateful, because they may be anxious about change, and about being in the “catbird seat” in communicating it.
  • Face-to-face communication
  • Two-way communication: Make room for feedback.
  • A focus on “them,” not on “us”. Are you actively listening and answering employees’ concerns vs. telling them what you think they need to know?
  • Assessment tools to check on the effectiveness of your communications

Managing change doesn’t have to be a slog. Understanding relationships, trust, motivation, and the power of listening, resilience, and flexibility can make all the difference.