How to get (and keep) employees on board in times of change

Transparent communication is crucial, as is inviting employees into the discussion and allowing time to address concerns.

All organizations go through changes.

Whether it’s due to a seismic structural shift, a downsizing or a cultural adjustment, change requires consistent, clear communication. People are naturally resistant to change, and workers tend to view any alteration of their routine, environment or expectations as something negative. We are creatures of habit and tend to see change as a threat.

Here are six ways communicators can mitigate fear and reassure employees during turbulent, uncertain times:

1. Plan well. Communicating with employees before, during and after a transformation or modification is crucial, but it must be strategic for it to be helpful. This requires planning.

Timing is key. When should you announce changes? Should you communicate with affected departments ahead of time, or just let everyone know at the same time? How long should you wait before making big announcements?

Of course, it’s not always possible to make these sorts of choices. News leaks and rumors might force your hand. Ideally, though, try not to make too many jarring announcements at one time. Whenever possible, spread them out over time.

Too much dramatic change at one time can be disheartening for employees and cause them to disengage. Roll out changes gradually to allow those affected to slowly get used to the new situation.

Make sure your communication planning prioritizes compassion, empathy and understanding for employees who will be affected by the changes.

2. Don’t spring last-minute surprises. Some managers have the (wrong) idea that announcing news at the last possible minute is the best way to minimize pushback and internal anger. This is always a bad, counterproductive strategy.

Change is something people need time to get used to. Therefore, always do your best to prepare employees by communicating with them well before a change will take place.

3. Invite employees into the discussion. To diminish resistance toward change, allow people to participate in the process. Give workers a voice and a say in the matter.

Invite employees who will be affected by the change to participate in the discussion at an early stage.

Of course, make clear what is negotiable and what is off the table. The last thing you want to do is give a glimmer of false hope or offer the impression that employees can influence decisions that are not negotiable.

4. Be clear and transparent. What good does it do to mislead employees?

Keeping your team well-informed is the best way to quash rumors and quell anxiety regarding upcoming changes. If possible, provide employees with milestones in the form of dates when the different steps of the change are scheduled to begin. Before and during the implementation process, make sure everyone knows who they can speak with to clear up any confusion.

5. Provide ample training. If a change involves a new system, different software, modified routines or the use of new equipment, many will resist. Don’t wait for workers to ask for help or guidance. Instead, assume that training and support is needed, and offer it to employees.

Employees might need more time to execute the same amount of work until they get up to speed, so make sure this is anticipated, communicated and understood.

6. Go from private to public, not the other way around. A common mistake managers make is announcing changes regarding employees’ responsibilities or work routines in public before announcing them in private.

This lack of respect damages trust and can quickly crush morale. Give affected workers the courtesy of speaking to them in private first, before informing the rest of the team. As you speak with them, let them know when the news will be announced to the team.

Change is difficult for everyone. However, by planning well and being as transparent and open as possible, it’s possible to make the process respectful, positive and empathetic. That’s the key to keeping your employees on board amid turbulent times and transformation.

Malin Teles works for Race Communications, a corporate communications agency based in Brazil.

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