Speak Clearly in Uncertain Times – The Importance of Communication Strategies in Effective Change Management

What’s going to happen? How does this affect me? What should I do? These are the questions I remember asking the week I learned the regional company I had recently joined had been acquired by an international organization. Though mergers are neither rare nor entirely unpredictable, I immediately felt isolated. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, what I was expected to do, or if and when I should expect to see changes. The brief email announcement I received left all too many questions. More than anything else I craved information.

My experience has given me valuable perspective in my current role at Clarus where I work with companies to craft and execute change management strategies. More often than not, communication is one of the most important tools we employ to facilitate effective and sustainable change.

Communication is also one of the most complex and nuanced tools. Understanding how information flows within a company, especially the degree to which employees trust various methods and sources of messages are often as, if not more, important than actual language used. Technology has greatly increased the number of communication vehicles, yet the subtleties among email, voicemail, newsletters, and social media are often overlooked and can critically impact overall delivery and acceptance of the message.

At Clarus, we make sure that we listen to the company and its stakeholders before we recommend specific communication strategies. For example, we may conduct interviews and surveys or run focus groups to gain and better understanding and appreciation of the employees, their preferences, and communication styles. This interaction allows us to better understand the company’s culture, as well as its current communication techniques and style. Perhaps the most common requests we hear are for timely, consistent, two-way communication.

Uncertainty is a very uncomfortable place for almost everyone, so we encourage companies to establish clear mechanisms to solicit and respond to employees’ questions. Timely communication is critical to minimizing frustration and anxiety among employees. At the same time, inaccurate information can be even more damaging than silence–sparking skepticism and apathy. Pending the collection of accurate information, we often recommend clear, honest and timely responses such as “we are currently researching that issue and will get back to you as soon as we know the answer.”

Small steps like effective feedback loops and clear concise responses will build a foundation of reliable, trusted communication. Communication builds organizational cohesion, enhances understanding, reinforces the culture, and makes successful change possible. With an established, multifaceted communications strategy that incorporates face-to-face, online, and social media to send and receive messages, companies can design, implement, and tweak their change initiatives to most effectively fit both their current and their desired organization.

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