Communicating Change: How You Can Make Change Work

Sections of this topic

    Part Two: For front line supervisors and managers:

    As we noted last time, communicating change at all levels is critical for a successful change effort. As a front line manager or supervisor, recognize that you are the key change agent in your circle of influence. Your people look to you as they move through the change. Are you for it? Against it? Dragging your feet? They probably take their cues from you. If you are inexperienced, unskilled or uncomfortable about communicating change, learning how to do it effectively is a huge development opportunity for you. Some of the key skills to practice include:

    1. Empathetic listening.

    2. Helping direct employees reframe thoughts and beliefs.

    3. Reinforce and support new behaviors.

    Most of this work is done through your team huddles, meetings and one on one coaching. You may also assign self-study, recommend reading and discussion, or even hold a workshop or class to help your direct reports to work through change.

    Watch out for these mistakes in communicating change:

    Forgetting you are already ahead of the curve. You may have already had days or weeks to adjust to the upcoming change. By the time it is getting communicated, you may be well past any shock or surprise, already comfortable with the change. You may even have moved on to think about the next challenge. You may be ready for action and next steps, but your people may not. It is easy to forget that your direct reports, hearing about this change, may have emotional reactions they need to work through before they can get ready to implement it.

    Underestimating your impact on others. If you seem to be “all business” about the change, while others are still reeling or dealing with emotions, they are bound to wonder why. They won’t understand that you have probably already “been there.” If they are worried about their jobs, roles, or how this is going to affect them, they won’t be ready or even able to hear your expectations. As a leader, you need to give them time and space to process the news in their time, not according to yours. Empathetic listening, working through and reframing thoughts and beliefs can take time you don’t feel you can afford. But not taking that time, rushing them to action before they are ready, can have a negative impact on the success of the change.

    Not communicating early or often enough. Many times managers know the change is coming, but don’t have all the facts. Rather than talk about it with incomplete information, they stall. “I will communicate when I have the information” can sound to worried direct reports a lot like “I know but I don’t want to tell you because it is so awful.” Not communicating sends a message: it can make you look evasive, indecisive, not fully committed to the change, and not transparent. What is this doing to trust between you and your team? How much better to communicate early, saying “A change is on its way, and I don’t have all the information. What I can tell you now is this….and I will keep you informed as I learn more details.” It is not easy to face your people knowing they may be upset and knowing that you don’t have all the answers for them. But not communicating is so much more dangerous.

    Most leaders underestimate the importance of their ability, willingness, and visibility in communicating about change efforts. You can reinforce and support your people as they move through the change by avoiding these common mistakes, and by taking proactive steps to help lead the way.