Four important steps for communicating change
Good communication is paramount to an organization’s success, and at no point is this more apparent than when an organization is going through change.
Some of what is mentioned here is similar to what you’ll need to keep in mind when creating an internal communications plan, but there are a few things that make communicating change different from other topics or issues.
When communicating change at your nonprofit, keep these steps in mind:
1 – Prepare for the impact of change
Do yourself a favour and take the time to fully assess what change is happening, how it might affect your organization and its employees, and what the concerns of your staff might be. As always, preparation is key.
You’ll want to prepare for things like:
- Staff that might be excited about the change (they might become your change advocates)
- Staff that might be disappointed or scared, or who might become disengaged because of the change (more on these later)
- What channels are available to help share the news
- How long it will take for the organization to complete the change
- How long it will take for the staff to accept the change and move forward
2 – Understand potential worries
Most people don’t like change. If we had the choice, many of us would prefer to keep going with the same set of circumstances, living life in a kind of comfortable same-ness. However, in this current era of fluctuating markets and ever-new technology, that comfort just isn’t possible.
“The biggest shame trigger at work is the fear of your irrelevance.
What drives the fear of irrelevance at work? Change.”
When undergoing a major change in the workplace, your staff’s primary worry will be whether or not their job is safe. If the change occurring is substantial and overarching, like a new mandate, vision, or core service, some staff members might also wonder whether their skills will still be needed or whether they’ll still be interested in spending their days feeding into the aims of this new organization.
3 – Anticipate questions
Think about the questions your staff might have and incorporate them into your messaging.
Think of times when your staff has had to receive sensitive or difficult information – do they respond better when it’s delivered in person? Via email? Is it helpful to offer an opportunity to provide feedback? Would it help to include staff throughout the change process, or to simply notify them once things have been decided?
I would argue that people will accept difficult change much more easily if they feel they’ve been involved in the process, but I recognize that is not possible in every situation or at every organization. Regardless of how far into the process you can bring your staff, helping them visualize how they will personally weather this change will go a long way toward stewarding a smooth transition.
4 – Repeat your messages
In my experience, it’s just when you feel yourself going hoarse from saying the same thing over and over again (or find your fingers typing the same responses by rote) that you finally begin to stop getting the same “what’s going on” type of questions.
Don’t be discouraged by the amount of time and repetition it takes to ensure your messaging is being received. But, then again, isn’t that the way with all communications plans?
Remember to switch up the way you share your messages (in both form and content) since different people take in information differently – this is especially important to remember when the information might be difficult to accept or process.
If possible, it is also helpful to make your managers (or, if things are very serious, outside counsel) available for further conversation once the news has been broken. Ultimately, the more chances and methods you offer for staff, volunteers and other stakeholders to receive and process the information, the better.
The positive side of change – and change communications
Change is inevitable and, while often tricky to navigate, can be a good thing for a workplace to go through. Change in an organization can make things run more efficiently, spark renewed engagement with the public, or open up new avenues for funding.
Change can also give you new ways to engage your staff. Shifting teams, positional responsibilities, or creating new projects can reinvigorate your workplace and boost staff morale. You might find some staff eager to step up and take on more personal responsibility as well.
Want to know more? Check out the following articles, which delve further into managing and communicating organizational change.