Communicating Change (2)

People can be very opposed to change for a variety of reasons, some personal and some professional. One of the main reasons why people sometimes oppose and often 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 usual 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.

Often, when the change is properly explained and communicated, then many of the fears and anxieties which people have about it are overcome. Clear, effective communication, therefore, can be the vital key to addressing the people problems associated with change. And it will usually fall to the training professionals within an organization, to take a lead in ensuring that this communication is both timely and effective.

How decisions about change are made and communicated

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

For example, changes in an organization's vision and its physical resources (number of people, building and premises, etc.) will be decided on the basis of available strategic information by those at the top. These decisions are made unilaterally, although they are often 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.

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 result is usually confusion about what is required, and resistance to carrying it out.

At the individual 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 will then support their implementation.

The role of trainers in ‘championing’ change

Trainers in organizations often have a central role to play in ‘championing’ change. This may mean that you or others in your team are called on to help facilitate communication processes at each of these levels of change, to help ensure that appropriate decisions are made. DBA’s experiences in facilitating wide-wide change indicate that trainers may need to carry out all or any of the following core communication tasks:

At the organizational level:

  • asking questions to clarify Senior Management thinking about the change and its implications
  • facilitating discussions to plan what needs to be communicated about the change
  • preparing and designing materials to be used for communicating messages on to staff

At the departmental/team level:

  • working closely with departmental and team heads to clarify the change and identify possible implications
  • briefing and coaching managers, in how best to communicate the change on to their people
  • working with individual managers to identify development needs associated with the change, and plan how best to address them
  • managing the dissemination and sharing of information between teams and departments, about how the change is progressing.

At the individual level:

  • gathering and responding to individual queries and concerns about the change
  • designing and delivering appropriate training in any new skills and knowledge required by the change
  • listening to and helping to identify solutions to specific individual problems associated with the change.

The formula for managing change is to get everyone involved in the process and communicating about it at an appropriate level. The culture which trainers need to encourage is one in which ‘permission’ for making decisions is allowed and given at each level accordingly. This makes people feel that their fears and concerns about the change are respected and valued. This in turn is more likely to win their support for the change.

A simple model for successful communication of change ‘messages’.

The most common cause of change failure is lack of information, or inappropriate communication of information. An organization may need to enforce certain changes. But it needs to win the hearts as well as the minds of its workforce, in order to implement those changes effectively. What happens all too often is that people are ‘told’ what the change will be and how they will be expected to implement it. There is a vital piece missing in the middle here, which is that people need to understand they reasons ‘why’ they are doing it. They also need to have an opportunity to express their views and contribute their own ideas about how it might be implemented.

At DBA we have found the PEDA principle below very helpful in explaining to managers the various stages through which they should aim to communicate messages about change on to their staff:

P Present state clearly what the change is

E Explain why the change is happening, and what impact it is likely to have

D Discuss the change, actively seeking to answer questions and concerns

A Action plan agree what immediate actions are necessary, when they will be completed,
and when you will meet next to review progress and developments.

Jumping straight from the P to the A to this model does nothing to engage the willingness of staff, and can lead to confusion, uncertainty, fear and resentment. Taking care to ensure that the second and third steps are covered can yield significant results; people may still feel uncomfortable with the change, but they will be certainly be more willing to give it a fair go.

© DBA 1998