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From exhibiting complete transparency to modeling the changes that you want to see, there are several ways to communicate expectations of change with employees. — Getty Images/LaylaBird

Research suggests that miscommunication costs small businesses an average of $420,000 per year. That’s a staggering economic loss attributed to ineffective communication. During periods of rapid change, communication becomes even more important. The chance for misunderstanding, broken trust, and low morale gets compounded if your team is communicating poorly during times of change. Here’s how to best communicate change to your employees to reduce uncertainty and frustration.

[Read more: Expert Advice on How to Support Your Employees During a Crisis]

Be as transparent as possible

Transparency is key. But, in times of change, you might not be able to provide a clear picture of what’s going on. Change can be messy and hard to predict.

Focus on communicating the why behind the change. “It’s important to share what you know – including what’s changing, when, and how,” wrote Harvard Business Review. When you ask your team to shift their work schedule, take on more work or try a new operational process, communicate why this change is happening, as well as how it will lead to better business results. For instance, if you’re asking the team to work from home for longer than planned, talk about how this change will keep your customers safe, allow everyone to work more flexibly and still keep your business open.

Practice regular communication

A study by McKinsey found that regular, frequent communication is best to help employees through a period of change. Once you’ve established a narrative around the reasoning for your strategy and a course of action, you must provide consistent updates as to whether or not your strategy is working.

These updates should continue to motivate your team to reach a common goal, stick with new operational procedures or support whatever other plans you’ve set to mitigate change. Try to use these updates to directly acknowledge and answer employees’ questions. If you don’t have the answers, be transparent about that, too.

In these situations, the best way to communicate how important these changes are is to model the change yourself.

Use the right communication platform

The type of change your organization is facing should dictate how you communicate with your employees. For instance, a big adjustment, such as changing healthcare benefits, requires a different communication method than a small change in opening hours.

When it’s a big change — say, a wage cut due to COVID-19 — give your employees the benefit of a two-way communication channel. For sensitive personal matters (like changes to healthcare benefits), open an email alias that employees can email privately with questions. If your organization is operating as normal, host a town hall to allow the team to come together and ask questions.

“Make sure to use a variety of media: email, all-hands meetings, company communications apps, home mailings (especially if family members are affected) and an FAQ for nitty-gritty details. And also remember to engage in direct conversations — create opportunities for employees to privately deliver messages or ask questions. Make it a topic in manager one-on-ones. Just make sure people feel like they can ask tough, personal questions,” said the experts at Limeade.

Model the change you wish to see

Some changes are out of your control. For instance, shifting to remote work or increasing sanitation protocols to combat the spread of COVID-19 is a change that most employees are likely to understand. However, that doesn’t mean the change will be easy. In these situations, the best way to communicate how important these changes are is to model the change yourself.

Research has found that when senior leaders model certain behavior changes, transformations are five times more likely to be successful. Empower your managers to lead through change by providing them with the resources and information to answer questions, address resistance to change and support your team proactively. For instance, if your store is requiring all employees to wear masks, give each manager extra masks, information on the efficacy of wearing masks and put up a notice in the break room communicating that the mask policy comes from the top.

[Read more: 5 Experts on How to Manage Employees Through Difficult Times]

Offer positive reinforcement

Change can be hard. Whether your business is going through organizational evolution or change caused by extenuating circumstances, a little positive encouragement goes a long way.

Maybe your team is adjusting to a new remote work policy. Or maybe you’re trying out a new ordering system at your restaurant. Whatever the change, provide a morale boost as you see your employees adapt and overcome. Host a virtual happy hour at the end of your first month of remote work. Recognize the employee who mastered the ordering system first. Show your team that you continue to appreciate their dedication and hard work during periods of change.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 06, 2020