Communicating change in the workplace: 6 best practices to get employees on-board

A telltale sign of whether an organization will survive and thrive into the future is its adaptability. That’s because sooner or later, every organization will go through a big change that impacts its employees. 

It may be a merger, a growth slump, an acquisition, a leadership replacement, or a company-wide policy update. To make it work – to adapt and thrive – employees need to be aligned with a company’s change efforts. This is especially true for frontline organisations.

Sadly, many organizational change initiatives fail miserably. A recent study by Gartner shows that only 34% of all change efforts are successful. 

Granted, communicating organizational change isn’t easy. But it can be a lot smoother with proper communication throughout the company. 

Informing and involving your workers throughout the process is the key to successful change that has a positive impact on employee experience.

So let’s see what it means to communicate change in the workplace, and what the best practices are for a seamless transition.

What is change communication?

We’re not big on fancy jargon. So let’s keep it simple. Change communication is the process of keeping your workers updated on your change initiatives throughout a period of change.

How you communicate change can help employees and other stakeholders understand:

  • What is being changed
  • Why the change is necessary at this time
  • What’s the scope of your change efforts
  • How the change will affect them
  • What steps are required from their side

Whether you’re adopting new technology, updating a part of a business operation, or shuffling leadership, change communication helps workers shift from where they are to where they need to be in the future.

Understanding the change communication model

If you want your change initiative to bear fruit, your workers should go through the following phases. 

Awareness: informing employees about the coming change. This should be done through clear and relevant messages distributed through internal communication channels. 

Understanding: helping employees what, why, and how of the change.

Acceptance: supporting employees in accepting the upcoming change effort and act in accordance with it. This will almost certainly require two-way communication.

Commitment: making sure that communication keeps flowing until the new activities become the norm, to reach full commitment.

Each of these phases is important for a smooth transition. If you rush the process and skip a phase you will encounter resistance. There are no shortcuts.

So the big question is: how can you best meet the needs of workers during each phase? We’re glad you asked. Here are some tips to help you streamline your change initiatives. 

How to communicate change in the workplace

Use visual communication 

Visual communication relies on visual aids to convey information – graphs, maps, charts, infographics, … 

Images and videos are visual forms of content too. TechSmith’s research shows that using them saves time and leads to faster understanding than text on its own.

People retain visual information more than text.

Visuals can help you communicate key data in a way that it’s easily digestible, comprehensible, and memorable. 

Chances are your company is already using visualization in many areas. From the emoji that a coworker shares with you to the poster in the hall depicting Covid precautions, you probably come across a variety of visuals every day. So it’s only a matter of extending the same creativity to your change communications. 

On top of that, tools like Canva, Piktochart, and Visme that have recently flooded the market allow even non-designers to create stunning visuals in no time. 

Canva helps design visuals to communicate change

Once you have created the visual content to communicate change, use a platform like Blink (which has a newsfeed and content hub) ensure smooth distribution and ready accessibility.  

Bring in video communication

Videos are among the most engaging communication formats. Viewers retain 95% of a message when the message is conveyed with a video, as compared to just 10% from plain text.

If the thought of creating a video is conjuring images of complex video editing software in your head, worry not. 

Just like with graphics, you don’t need to be a video-mixing pro to create engaging clips. What matters is that your videos are genuine and authentic – they don’t need to be slick and polished.

Tools such as Snagit, Piktostory, and Loom make it really easy to record, edit and share videos with employees in your organization. 

Tools like Loom help you create change communication videos

Don’t forget face-to-face channels

It’s no secret that people are increasingly working remotely and relying on digital communication platforms to meet and keep in touch. In many ways, that’s a good thing.

But change, no matter how small, is a sensitive topic. When communicating change, it’s not just about what you’re saying, but also about how you’re saying it – the non-verbal signals you, and your employees, send out contain important information.

Take the example of a global manufacturer who held a meeting of about 200 workers right after a reorganization. There was an unease in the crowd, and when the VP got up to deliver his speech, he spotted this and took it into account: instead of embarking on his presentation, he started by addressing the elephant in the room. 

He told the workers that he understood how they were feeling. Uncertain. Sad. Scared. He expressed honest, heartfelt sorrow over the senior management’s distress about letting good people go. He validated what the employees were feeling.

Had this been a virtual meeting, the VP probably wouldn’t have caught the non-verbal signals of workers’ mental and emotional condition.

Face-to-face meetings help with communicating change effectively

So whenever possible, include in-person communication in your change management communication process. Tune in to what preoccupies your employees so you can respond genuinely. This is especially important if they are frontline workers; make sure they feel seen, heard and taken into account. 

Incorporate the principles of storytelling 

In the early 1980s, the airline industry went through a tough time. Scandinavian Airlines was hit particularly hard: it was facing a loss of $20 million.  

To turn itself around, the business decided to make a big change in its strategy, the core of which was to focus more on business travelers. But changing the mindset of its 20,000 workers was not going to be easy. 

So what did they do? The management sent a short handbook to all the employees with a visual story communicating the change. The booklet covered what the company was going through, its future goal, and how workers could help the organization get through its struggles.  

Along with other change communication efforts, this approach helped the company increase its earnings by $25 million in the first year, and $80 million overall.  

Stories can go a long way in reducing the fear and uncertainty associated with your change initiative, and rally your workers around shared objectives. 

To learn more, see our guide to employing storytelling in your internal communications. 

Open up channels for two-way feedback  

Change is stressful. 73% of employees affected by change report experiencing moderate to high stress levels. 

73% of change-affected employees report experiencing moderate to high stress.

When going through a transition, employees want to feel heard and validated. They should be able to share their concerns, feelings, and experiences, and raise questions. 

In-person chats go a long way in giving workers a sense of being included. If that’s not possible, or in larger companies, two-way digital communication channels can make a big difference. Either way, the unspoken message you want to convey is that the management and the employees are in this together. 

Create a change communication strategy 

Your employees will feel reassured and get on board much faster if they have a clear view of exactly what’s happening when, and if they feel that they have a voice.

The best way to embark on a change process is to start with a change communication strategy that helps workers see what lies ahead. Not knowing generates anxiety; being in the loop alleviates it. 

A proper change communication strategy will help you distribute timely, consistent, and relevant information, along with mechanisms for workers to share feedback and raise questions.

Final thoughts

Real change takes time and effort but it is often worth it. When communicated skilfully, a change effort can shift gears and successfully move your company into a desired future state. 

Many organizations fail at change management because they treat it as a set-and-forget process. Don’t make that mistake. When communicating change, make sure to hammer home your key messages not just once, but again and again. Keep communicating until the change becomes second nature. 

If you make your workers the protagonists in the story of your change, you’ll see a real willingness on their part to adapt and contribute. 

If you are looking to implement effective change communication, schedule a demo to learn about how Blink can help you drive successful organizational change with efficient internal communications.