Linda Ames: Five ways to take the sting out of change

1) Your company will continue to experience dynamic change.

2) Your employees will hate it.


Change generally starts this way. After endless strategy sessions, the CEO announces an important change (i.e. merger/acquisition, software implementation, new product rollout, etc.). Employees are told how vital this change is for the company. Facts are laid out. High hopes are expressed. Applause and smiles follow. Employees are sent back to work and the CEO returns to his or her office feeling good.

Then, somewhere between the applause and their desk, the employees realize they don’t know the answer to a very important question: “What does this mean to me?”

So, they talk about it with their neighbor. They neglect their work. Customers begin to hear notes of worry and uncertainty in their voices. And, before you know it, a great change for the company costs a lot more than expected.

What can you do about it? Plenty.


Fight fear with emotion

Seriously. People buy things because it makes them feel good. Employees need to feel good about the change in order to buy into it. By focusing on a combination of features and benefits – with emphasis on the benefits for each group, employees will be moved to accept the change and take action.


Consistent communication

Employees must first be aware of the change and then understand what the change will mean to them before they can move on to acceptance/buy-in. Employees will not be able to hear each message until they need the new information. That’s why the message must be delivered multiple times, starting with the CEO and then cascading throughout the organization using an array of communication methods.


Start good gossip

In every company there are opinion leaders who other employees trust for gossip. These grass-roots opinion leaders serve as important communication vehicles, reaching those who are fearful, angry or prefer to get their information from their peers. If supplied with accurate information, opinion leaders can debunk rumors and surface questions that, if allowed to go unanswered, could impede the change.


Focus on details

Commit to clear, consistent messages that become continually more detailed. While messages need to begin with the CEO, the more detailed explanations of work will need to come from their managers. Since managers tend to get caught up in the daily details and forget that others aren’t as well informed as they are, set the expectation early that clear and consistent communication needs to continue throughout the change.


Respond to feedback

Develop a confidential feedback loop. Whether the questions are critical or mundane, just knowing they can ask any question without feeling embarrassed will calm emotions. Seeing the answer to their anonymous question posted publicly will make an employee feel powerful and valued. Even if you don’t respond to rude or inappropriate questions, the questioner may feel better to have asked it, and you will know what issues are bubbling below the surface – information that will guide your next communications.


Clear and consistent communication results in employees who feel and act more like partners and strongly increases the likelihood they will successfully carry out the new vision.