5 tips for communicating organizational change

Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be if we better manage our expectations and attitude towards change in general. After all, change is an inevitable constant, and part of developing a mindset to embrace change depends on how one prepares for and communicates those changes.

In the workplace, the formal term for addressing change is through a process called organizational change management, where methods and strategies are deployed to help employees accept and embrace change.

Major organizational changes can be difficult to implement if they are not carefully thought out and intentionally designed. In my career, I’ve seen some of the best and worst change management processes. Here are some key considerations to make when introducing organizational changes:

Provide the vision

Before launching a change management effort, you need to have an established vision and an implementation plan. Otherwise, it will be difficult to ask people to change when they don’t even understand what the plan or the change is. A plan with a clear vision that explains where you are, where you are going and, more importantly, what it means for the participants affected by the change is essential to getting it right.

By providing the plan and the vision, use the data and tell a story to help fully crystallize the vision.

Who to tell first

The success of an organizational change process often depends on who you start your messaging with. As leaders, you want buy-in and feedback from your key stakeholders on the plan and vision. By starting with the right audiences, leaders can achieve strategic alignment early on and then cascade it down through the organization.

In addition to buy-in, you can achieve alignment and gather critical information that can help shape the change message. Early buy-in can help reduce unforced errors and other unintended consequences later, such as lower employee morale or loss of leadership credibility.

Manage expectations

One of the most important aspects of managing organizational change is managing expectations. That’s the basics: too often, plans are rolled out and timelines are met, but leaders don’t give those involved a clear understanding of what’s going to happen next.

Depending on the complexity of the organizational change and the magnitude of what the change might feel like for those affected, managing expectations is paramount. Managing expectations is about letting people know what will or will not happen.

A trap that some leaders make is to water down the message and engage in equivocal doublespeak. People deserve respect, and being candid with people is a form of professional consideration and decency.

Another important aspect of managing organizational change is recognizing that different audiences may need different information. The right level of information is essential. Too much information can be overwhelming, while too little can cause unnecessary tension. Determine your audience and who needs to know what and when.

the good messenger

When delivering messages, it is important to have the right messenger – someone you trust, authority, and who can help lead change as an effective messenger. I can think of countless times when the wrong messenger was selected and they failed to respond effectively at the time, undermining organizational change efforts. When the messenger is not acceptable, the whole message may be ignored simply because there is a dislike for the presenter.

And sometimes there may be multiple messengers for multiple audiences. As a leader, think of all the people on the team who have credibility and leverage their leadership to spread the message. Often people will appreciate the opportunity to hear from other leaders.

Rinse, Repeat and Strengthen

Some messages are worth repeating, so complex organizational changes typically require multiple channels through which to communicate and then reiterate the message. You can’t expect all audiences to hear or see the message the first, second, or even third time.

Leaders need to consider all the channels they might use to deliver the message — video, email, Slack, town halls, FAQs, office hours, and newsletters — to effectively meet with staff where they typically like to receive information. The primary goal of a successful organizational change effort is to ensure that the plurality of people involved understand the message and its impact on them. Second, it’s about getting them to take action, when appropriate.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Aubrey L. Morgan