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by Mary Coughlin
on December 12, 2019

"How" is More Important Than "What"

“How information is communicated to employees during a change matters more than what information is communicated. A lack of audience empathy when conveying news about an organizational transformation can cause it to fail.”
Employee FAQs: 11 Must-Answer Questions During Organizational Change  Get the PDF

This statement hit home with me as I was browsing this Harvard Business Review post, as it’s something our team hammers home on every change communications project.

We talked about empathy before on our blog, as we fully understand its importance in our clients’ communication strategies, especially when approaching an organizational change. Interestingly, few executives consider empathy when developing their change communications plan. 

According to Patti Sanchez and her company’s research in the above referenced Harvard Business Review article, half of the leading companies conducting a change effort hadn’t fully considered their team’s sentiment about the change, but instead were approaching the change just “going on gut.”

Two takeaways from me on that research: 1) It is imperative to develop a well-planned and strategic approach to change using creative communications. In our work, we have seen it time and again when a company rolls out a change: a rushed, half-baked communications plan (or no plan at all) leaves the audience feeling confused and undervalued, forgotten and sometimes angry. “Going on gut” is not a communications plan; and 2) The audience’s feelings must be considered. You have to know your audience—meaning you understand what motivates them, what their challenges are, and what they are sensitive about, before you start communicating.

I liked Sanchez’ point about addressing employees’ concerns head-on. Avoiding the elephant in the room will only feed the uncertainty that your team is feeling as a result of an upcoming change, so be sure to be as transparent as possible, no matter what communications vehicle you’re using. This will also build trust and credibility because employees will feel that you are validating their emotions and not discounting them.

Sanchez also talked about some creative ways to involve your audience. I agree that finding something more interactive than email when discussing changes and how they will impact your team is a smart way to make your team feel like active participants in the change. For example, host a town hall meeting and find out where they see holes in the roll out plan and what would make the transition easier for them; then, address that feedback personally. This approach will go a long way toward gaining buy-in. 

Do you have a change coming down the pike but not sure how to start building your strategy? No matter what the change is, one of the challenges we tackle for our clients is determining how to communicate it via the most appropriate medium and at the right time, while considering the feelings of the stakeholders. We’d love to chat with you and help you get started.