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Effective Internal Communication in Change Management

How do you achieve successful change? In this article, we've condensed the fundamentals of change management communication for you - as well as valuable insights for effective communication along the way.

Definition: what is change management?

Change management encompasses the proper handling of company-wide transformations, including the meticulous planning and execution of measures to prepare and support all stakeholders through the change process effectively. With effective change management practices in place, organizational transitions can be successfully navigated, ensuring the best outcomes.

Changes lead to insecurity among workers

People are creatures of habit and tend to view any change with skepticism, as change = an uncertain future. Even those not explicitly against change processes will likely show little motivation to help shape the upcoming innovations and changes. Often, change management fails due to a lack of communication. Employees can be unclear about the goals and motivations behind the change. They also feel insufficiently involved in processes, as the diagram below shows, among other things. Good internal communication can make a significant difference in the success of any change management initiative.

Diagram showing the study results

The 8 stages of change management according to John Kotter

John P. Kotter, a professor of leadership management at Harvard Business School, has extensively studied various change projects. Drawing from his research, he devised an eight-stage model for achieving successful change management, detailed in his book "Leading Change". Kotter's model emphasizes the pivotal role of people and communication as primary catalysts for driving successful change.

Picture showing the eight stages of change management according to John Kotter with explanatory texts

Step 1: Create awareness

Every change initiative arises from a purpose and a sense of urgency, driven by either a desire for improvement ("away from...") or the pursuit of opportunities ("towards..."). In change management, everyone within the organization must share a collective understanding of this urgency as a foundation for building subsequent steps.

Stage 2: Seek allies

By fostering a shared awareness of the urgency for change across departments, it becomes easier to identify allies within the organization who can collaboratively propel the change process forward. The greater the number of esteemed and well-connected employees who join this coalition, the wider its influence and impact can be.

Stage 3: Develop and formulate goals and strategies

The coalition of change drivers crafts the vision, outlining the goals. It's vital to communicate the opportunity for improvement in this context. An "away from" scenario is designed to achieve this improvement (level 1). Positively formulated goals have a more inspiring and motivating impact on all stakeholders. Once the vision is established, a concrete implementation strategy can be developed accordingly.

Step 4: Communicate the formulated vision correctly

The change process profoundly impacts all employees within the organization, so its success hinges upon collaboration. According to Kotter, effective change communication goes beyond simply sending out slides or distributing documents without explanation. It is crucial for the sense of urgency surrounding the change to be tangible for all employees. The strategies and information shared must be understandable and actionable, requiring competent staff leadership. Only then can subsequent steps be taken confidently and built upon this foundation.

Step 5: Remove obstacles out the way

Every change process inevitably encounters resistance and obstacles, manifesting in visible and hidden forms. Visible barriers include inefficient processes, outdated structures, obsolete technology, and ineffective routines. These tangible challenges can be addressed through straightforward solutions. On the other hand, employee resistance poses a more complex challenge to overcome. When facing such opposition, allowing employees to express their concerns and treat them with sincerity and respect is vital.

Some resistance may arise from employees' valid concerns about preserving existing processes they believe are worth safeguarding. Therefore, listening and truly acknowledging all forms of resistance is essential. Only by doing so can you effectively identify the crucial obstacles that hinder successful change and work toward their removal.

"Whenever smart and well-meaning people avoid facing obstacles, they disempower their staff and undermine change."

John P. Kotter

Professor of Leadership Management at Harvard Business School

Step 6: Aiming for and celebrating success step by step

Change management recognizes that long-standing processes and structures can't be changed overnight without warning. Sustainable changes are often challenging, and their implementation may not always be seamless. Therefore, it's crucial to prioritize and emphasize the first tangible successes or interim goals, gradually progressing toward more significant milestones. By adopting this approach, employees maintain motivation and develop confidence in the change process.

Step 7: Maintain changes achieved so far and keep the ball rolling

As time passes and the initial improvements are effectively implemented, thinking you're done and dusted with change management can be tempting. However, this is a mistake, and you mustn't become complacent. Instead, maintain focus, periodically analyze the current state of affairs, and actively seek further areas for improvement. Continuous evaluation and pursuit of enhancements should remain a priority to ensure ongoing progress and success.

Stage 8: Sustainably anchor change in the corporate culture

Continue to highlight the positive impact of change on the entire organization and each employee. Employees develop a strong association between the two by explicitly linking the achieved success to the implemented changes.

Over time, the new processes, approaches, and structures become ingrained in the corporate culture, becoming second nature to employees. However, it's crucial to preserve the newly established culture of change and avoid reverting to old patterns, particularly when hiring new employees. In Kotter's perspective, change management is only truly complete when the change becomes deeply rooted in the company across generations, creating a lasting legacy.

Change management: what can communication achieve?

Kotter's model highlights the crucial role of internal communication within change management, as it serves to align all employees, involve them in early-stage planning, and foster their commitment to implementing the change.

Conversely, employees feel insecure and often oppose the change when there is a poor information policy. They are frequently informed too late about innovations and restructuring; in the worst case, they learn about significant changes from external sources such as the press. This lack of timely and transparent communication makes it challenging for employees to comprehend the implications and objectives of the change.

Consequently, trust erodes, and resentment spreads among the workforce. To ensure that these adverse effects do not hinder your change efforts and to enhance employee motivation, it's essential to consider the following tips for effective change communication.

5 tips for successful internal communication in change management

The 5 tips at a glance

1. Involve employees fully in plans at an early stage

2. Reach all employees

3. Communicate empathetically and in a way that is appropriate for the target group

4. Understand communication as a dialogue - avoid top-down

5. Drive change management with an employee app

1. Involve employees in plans early and comprehensively

As already mentioned, if employees are not involved in the change process or only find out about plans for upcoming changes from the press, it leads to an enormous loss of trust. A modern concept of internal communication should aim to link the operational "hard" measures with the so-called "soft" communication factors.

Successful change management means preparing employees transparently for the upcoming change, informing them in the best possible way at every stage, and also being available for questions. The questions that you should pre-empt can be as follows:

  • What is the goal of change?
  • What does the change mean for the employees?
  • How are employees supported?
  • What support is given to employees who must leave the company during the change?
  • What is the vision of the intended change?

2. Reach all employees

Modern companies have a multi-layered structure. Often the workforce is made up of different employees at various locations. In addition to the office staff ("desk workers"), there are also those who carry out their work without a (fixed) desk ("non-desk or frontline workers"). These can be employees in warehouses, production, health care facilities, or technical or sales field staff.

This operational part of the workforce sometimes doesn't even have an email address and still receives information via announcements on the noticeboard. These employees, therefore, represent a major challenge for internal change communication. For successful change management, you must overcome the communication gap in the company and reach all employees across all locations.

3. Communicate empathetically and tailored to each group

As part of the internal communication concept, it is crucial to establish a content strategy that addresses the diverse stakeholders within the company. Take into account their individual challenges, desires, and concerns. Create appealing and understandable content to answer their potential questions about the change process. Avoid using technical jargon or complex explanations, as this can add unnecessary stress to employees already dealing with the challenges of change.

Utilize modern content formats such as video updates for immediate, easily digestible, and empathetic communication. Consider identifying a strong voice of change, such as a board member, to deliver messages and mobilize employees regularly. Additionally, give the change process an appropriate and tangible title to provide a clear focus and make it more relatable. By implementing these strategies, you can effectively engage and inform stakeholders, promoting a smoother transition during the change process.

Viewers retain 95 per cent of a video message in their memory. When they read the same message in a text, it is only 10 per cent.

4. Understanding communication as dialogue - avoiding top-down

Employees are the company's most valuable asset, bringing their knowledge and expertise to the table. The traditional top-down communication approach, where information flows solely from management to employees, is no longer effective. It's crucial to embrace a more inclusive approach by fostering bottom-up communication and giving every employee a voice. In the context of change processes, employees often have concerns and fears, so management must be receptive and attentive. Active listening is key!

Encouraging employee feedback is not limited to change management alone. It's beneficial to gather input from employees on various issues through internal surveys, workshops, and mood barometers. These tools can help identify areas with potential for improvement and enable employees to contribute their insights and suggestions. By valuing and acting upon employee feedback, companies can foster a culture of continuous improvement and create a more engaged and empowered workforce.

5. Driving change management with an employee app

Gone are the days when vital information would get lost in a poorly maintained intranet. A modern employee app is crucial to the digital internal communication shift, ensuring equal access to all employees regardless of location. It serves as an ideal catalyst for successful change management within the company and aligns with the trends in internal communication.

Easily installed on employees' personal devices, an employee app provides a convenient way for staff to carry the entire company in their pockets. It offers a wide range of functions to facilitate effective communication. Important news and updates can be quickly shared through a newsfeed, just like popular social networking platforms. The change management team can communicate directly through group or individual chats, share files, images, and even initiate video conferences. The ability to like and comment on posts promotes engagement and collaboration, fostering a sense of unity. Tasks can be assigned and shared within teams, ensuring that ideas and important steps are not overlooked.

Data privacy and security, including compliance with the European Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are ensured through hosting on ISO 27001 certified German servers. Additionally, employees can deactivate push notifications from the app outside of working hours, allowing them to maintain work-life balance.

By leveraging the features of an employee app, companies can streamline internal communication, enhance collaboration, and effectively support change management initiatives while ensuring data security and respecting employees' privacy.

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