Strategies for communicating about change

People can be very opposed to change for a variety of reasons, some personal and some professional. One of the main reasons why people oppose and fear change is that it can pose, or be seen to pose, threats. At the individual level change can involve:

insecurity

    fear of failure
    fear of loss of status or comfort
    fear of the unknown

pain/grief

    loss of familiar situations
    loss of known ways of behaving or working
    loss of confidence in ability
    loss of comfortable routines and procedures

effort

    the struggle to learn new skills and new ways of working
    the struggle to build new relationships and ways of getting on with people.

When the change is properly explained and communicated, then many of these fears and anxieties can be overcome. Clear, effective communication, therefore, can be the vital key to addressing the behavioural and attitudinal problems associated with change. The role of training professionals in this context is to facilitate clear, effective communication about the change process.

The communication strategy used and degree of participation allowable in shaping the desired change will vary, depending on the level of the change.

Communication at the organizational level.
Changes, for example, in an organization's vision and its physical resources (number of people, buildings and premises, etc.) will be decided on the basis of available strategic information by those at the top. These decisions are often made unilaterally, although they are informed by opinions from below. The decisions made need to be communicated on to those at other levels in the organization, using messages which are motivational and meaningful to them.

Communication at the departmental/team level.
In determining how changes will be implemented at a departmental or team level, some degree of sharing and participation in the decision making process is often required. This is the point at which many organizations founder in their management of change: changes are communicated down from top management, but little authority or support is offered in enabling others to work out how these will be implemented in practice. The results is usually confusion about what is required, and resistance to carrying it out.

Communication at the individual level.
At this level, enlightened managers will often seek to allow their staff to make their own decisions about required changes in their job and the various tasks they perform. Individuals consider the implications of the higher level change, the changes which this will require of them, and will communicate these back up to their manager, who should then support their implementation.

Training professionals are usually the ones called on to help facilitate communication processes at each of these levels of change. The information below is offered as an outline to the various tasks which may be involved in facilitating constructive discussion at each of the three levels.

LEVEL OF CHANGE TRAINING/FACILITATION ACTIVITY REQUIRED
Organizational Level Discussions with top management to gather relevant information about the change.
Clarification of the issues involved.
Planning what needs to be communicated.
Preparing and designing materials/media to be used for the communication.
Agreeing and 'signing off' materials/media with top management.
Gathering information about progress and problems, and communicating these back up to top management.

Departmental/Team Level Working closely with departmental and team heads to clarify the change and identify its possible implications. Facilitating workshops to discuss and plan ways of implementing the change required. Managing the dissemination and sharing of information between teams and departments, about how the change is progressing. Publicising 'success' stories to motivate and ensure recognition for those who are working with the change.
Individual Level Working with individual managers to formulate positive messages for communicating the change on to their people. Gathering and responding to individual queries and concerns about the change. Working with individual managers to identify development needs associated with the change, and plan how to address these.