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Communication: A Leader’s Role in Change Management

Some leaders shy away from communicating in the middle of a change initiative, particularly when the project is not proceeding as expected. Unfortunately, a vacuum yearns to be filled and it is human nature for people to assume the worst when they aren’t receiving any news.

The goal of a communication plan (in change management) is to create awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement with each of the audiences that will be impacted by change. An effective communication plan builds awareness of the nature of the change and communicates the risks of not changing. It enables sponsors to interact with employees, formalizes feedback mechanisms, and enables two-way communication, while publicly celebrating successes. The four steps to a successful communication plan are relatively straightforward.

1. Identify the audiences
This can be by location, function, or organization level. Different audiences require different messages. For example, management needs a deeper understanding of the change and needs that information before staff receive it. If everyone gets the same message at the same time, managers might be caught off guard by questions from their staff, which can increase resistance in both groups.

2. Identify key messages and timing
Different messages are required at different phases of the project. In the beginning, the leader is painting a clear picture of the current state and why it is not sustainable, while showing how the future state is better. They are creating awareness. As the change initiative proceeds, leadership continues to deliver the above, while adding status and progress updates.

3. Determine content packaging, delivery method, frequency, and sender
How leadership communicates change depends on a variety of factors. All at once or in manageable components? Face-to-face or town hall? The sender of the message depends on the audience and the content. The leader is the best person to communicate the expected business outcomes, while the employees’ managers are best to convey how the change will impact them personally.

4. Execute on the plan
Once the plan is in place, it’s time to execute. Follow the plan but also be willing to change the plan as the situation warrants.

As the communication plan unfolds, always remember that when executing change, companies tend to err on the side of communicating too little, rather than too much. Over communication is rarely the complaint heard once a change initiative has been completed – in fact, the reverse is often true.

By Tara Landes, Bellrock