How to overcome common obstacles encountered during change

Here are seven challenges you might meet—and sound communication advice to conquer them.  

How to manage change

Workplace change is a constant these days.

Between acquisitions, leadership shakeups, evolving strategies and benefits cuts,

effective employee communication is essential. However, you have many obstacles to overcome.

The good news? All communication challenges can be conquered. Here are seven scenarios you could face during change and the advice we use to tackle each:

1. You’re in a time crunch to get communication ready.

Even when timing is tight, it’s important to have a well-thought-out plan in place. It will help you prioritize tasks and ensure you’re reaching the right audiences. You don’t have to spend months on a plan for it to be effective. Here are the key components of a successful communication strategy:

  • Objectives—what you’re trying to achieve
  • Key stakeholders—who and how employees will be affected, as well as who will be involved in decision making
  • Strategies—the methods you’ll use to achieve your objectives
  • Tactics—the specific tools you need or steps you’ll take to deliver your strategies

2. The rumor mill is on overdrive.

Combat speculation and gossip with change champions. These advocates are chosen from across the company to learn about what’s happening and share key information with employees in their areas.

They will help you:

  • Tell a consistent story
  • Customize content for different functions, regions and locations
  • Answer employees’ questions

3. Leaders are inconsistently sharing information.

A simple way to help leaders talk about a complex change is to create an elevator speech—a short script to get the conversation started about what is changing and why. To create an effective elevator speech, follow these guidelines:

  • Make it short—two to three sentences (30–50 words) that should take less than one minute to tell.
  • Keep it simple. Avoid corporate jargon and complicated explanations.
  • Provide a clear understanding of the change, including:
    • What is changing?
    • Why?
    • What does it mean for us?

4. Leaders and managers don’t understand their role.

Be clear about communication expectations during change. Provide leaders and managers an overview (like the one below) to help them understand why their role is important and what is expected of them.

Have you shared the details of the change with your organization?A month or two after a change has launched, facilitate interviews to ask leaders about the communication process. Ask questions like:

  • Do you have the information you need to answer employees’ questions?
  • What are the main questions employees have?

This will help determine how well leaders are taking on their role in communication.

5. Managers don’t know how to answer employees’ questions.

In times of uncertainty, employees often rely on their manager to respond to concerns and answer questions. One great way to help managers be successful is to create a comprehensive “frequently asked questions” document that answers all possible questions, even the tough ones.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • What is changing?
  • When will change occur?
  • Who will be affected?
  • Why are we changing?
  • What do employees need to do differently? When?
  • Will this affect jobs?
  • Will jobs be cut?
  • Are people moving offices or relocating to other cities?
  • Are any offices/facilities/stores being closed?
  • Will the change affect pay?

6. Employees feel blindsided.

Help employees understand the “why” behind change. When you provide context, employees will better understand the big picture.

Here’s an example: When health care benefits change, the information that’s communicated is usually focused on negatives like cost increases and benefits being taken away. In addition to explaining the changes, also talk about your strategy.

  • Explain why your company offers competitive benefits and how it compares to competitors.
  • Share the reasons behind decisions and walk employees through the process.
  • Share the short- and long-term goals for benefits to help employees understand what you’re trying to achieve.

7. Change fatigue is setting in.

Draft a short survey to get a pulse on how employees are feeling. Measure:

  • Attitudes about the perceived change
  • Understanding of the change
  • Concerns
  • Knowledge about what they need to do differently
  • Beliefs in how the change benefits the company

Create a survey that is:

  • Short, targeted and easy for employees to complete
  • Designed with a story in mind (beginning, middle and end), so it’s easy to follow
  • Purposeful and immediately actionable

Communicating change doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are always solutions to even your biggest challenges. Next time you’re faced with one, try using this advice.

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company.

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