Use straight talk and make it personal when communicating through change.

One of the most frustrating things about working in change management is that many people assume it’s just about change communications. There also tends to be an assumption it’s easy. After all, we’re all consumers of communications. So it doesn’t always get the attention it needs.

At Change Associates, we call out at least eight elements that must be addressed to do change well, of which comms is just one. And it’s far from straightforward.

Getting this part of change management right is critical and in this blog we’ll take a look at how to communicate to steer the organisation through the often stormy waters of transformation.

3d 7 on a green background

1. Give me a reason to believe

Because… because… because

People will tolerate a lot if they believe there’s a good reason for it. Explain the business case for the change unambiguously. If you need to save money, say so (and why) rather than “we are committed to relentlessly exploring opportunities for synergies”.

WIFM: What’s in it for me?

I really don’t care if you think the change will result in ‘double-digit improvement in ROCE’ unless it means I get a pay rise. Tell me why I should be interested.

2. Straight Talk, No Sugar coating

Reality Check

People smell nonsense a mile away. Be brutally honest about the changes. If it’s bad, say it’s bad. Pretending everything is fine is patronising and ineffective.

Concrete Details

Vague statements create rumours. Provide specifics as early as possible – what’s changing, when, and how it impacts them.

3. Two-Way Streets Are Better Than Dead Ends

Feedback Loops

Change communications are not a monologue. Open up channels for feedback and actually listen. Provide routes for anonymous questions and feedback. People need to feel heard, especially during upheaval. Demonstrate you’ve listened with a “You said; We did” follow up.

Fill the Vacuum

No news is bad news in change management. Regular updates prevent the rumour mill from going into overdrive. Establish a schedule you can stick to and if necessary, explain nothing has changed over the period.

4. The Human Touch in a Digital World

Make it Personal

Mass emails are the junk food of communication – generally unhealthy but occasionally necessary for speed and ease. Ideally, however, personalise your approach and tailor messages to different teams or departments.

Emotional Intelligence

Change triggers emotions. Acknowledge the fear, uncertainty, and even excitement. This isn’t touchy-feely nonsense; it’s smart strategy that wins hearts as well as minds.

5. Lead by Example

Be Visible

Leaders need to be the face of change. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer reports have consistently shown that employees trust information and communication from their immediate supervisors and CEOs more than other sources within their organisations. Hide behind a spokesperson, and you lose trust and respect – and people begin to question whether the change really has your buy-in.

Consistent Messaging

Leaders must be on the same page. Mixed messages create confusion and chaos. This means the first round of change communications should be with leaders who will cascade information throughout the organisation.

6. Create Champions

Internal Advocates

Identify and empower key team members who can champion the change to their colleagues. Peer influence is powerful, and if an individual who is trusted and liked buys into the change, they’ll be one of the most effective drivers of that change and adoption.

Training and Tools

Don’t just tell, equip. Provide training and tools to help your champions and teams navigate the change.

7. Beyond Email: Creative Change Communications

Varied Formats

Email may be a necessary evil but limit its use and get creative. Use videos, Q&A sessions, and workshops – mix it up to keep engagement high. Use multiple channels to reach different audiences – or the same audience multiple times.

Get Personal

The more personal the interaction, the better the message will land(1). Face-to-face is best if not always practical(2). Remember the change will be exciting and welcome for many people, so reflect that buzz if appropriate.

Use Storytelling

We humans are wired for stories. Share tales of success and challenges overcome. Paint a compelling picture of the future. See this excellent HBR article for more: Storytelling That Drives Bold Change

Change Communications face-to-face briefing

Change Communications: conclusions

Change is uncomfortable, messy, and often resisted.

As a leader, your job is to guide your team through this maze, not with corporate speak or empty reassurances but with honesty, empathy, and a clear vision.

Remember, informed and engaged teams are not just surviving change; they’re driving it.


Contact us for expert guidance and support in navigating change and change communications.

 

 

Image (c)  Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

[1] Gallup – “How to Manage Change Effectively” (2013); Prosci – “Best Practices in Change Management” (2019):

[2] McKinsey & Company – “Reinforcing the IT Operating Model with Communication” (2010); Harvard Business Review – “The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture” (2018) Boris Groysberg and Jeremiah Lee; Gallup – “How to Manage Change Effectively” (2013)

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Trevor Lambert