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Small Business Digest


Employee-Communication Strategies Are Critical to Managing Change

If a company's strategy to communicate change to employees focuses on stakeholder communication plans, an intranet site, CEO forums and staff information bulletins via e-mail, it might as well stop right there.  The efforts are focused on information, not communication, and the likelihood of engaging employees in change is remote.

If an organization advertises for a "Change Manager" when it is really looking for an internal-communication professional rather than a change practitioner, the marketplace can get confused. So what's the difference?

Clearly both information and engagement tools are important.  An internal-communication professional focuses on tools to impart information and in some cases create dialogue, including:

* The corporate intranet
* Staff information bulletins
* E-mails
* Information for managers to brief their teams face to face
* Staff forums for the CEO
* Briefing kits for supervisors and team leaders

All of this activity is important and provides the support employees need to find out what is happening.  But - and this is an important distinction - if the company simply tells people what is happening, will that change their attitude and therefore change their behavior?

A CEO and senior executive team think "change" will happen because they have hired someone to communicate the changes taking place, and then when there isn't any impact on the business or the outcomes  management was looking for, it is disappointed.

Think of it this way: Smokers buy a pack of cigarettes featuring health warnings, and yet we see intelligent, literate people continue to smoke, pack after pack. The only time they truly become engaged in changing their attitude toward smoking and therefore their behavior is when they are in the doctor's office and are personally facing a health risk. Then - Aha! - they finally get it.

How can this analogy help companies communicate change? Let's look at this example:

An organization wants to communicate its financial results to employees. The usual approach is to post the annual report on the employee intranet. But this time, management needs to do something different; it want employees to understand why the company needs to improve and what shareholders base their decisions on. So managment runs free lunchtime information sessions for the employees on how to invest in the share market - an hour each week for four weeks. The topics progress from understanding the share market, categories of companies listed and so on until in the final week, the employees examine annual reports. When they finish reading the last one, they are asked, "Who would invest in this company?" Only a few hands are raised.  When they are then told this is the report for their own company, there is a collective Aha! The employees finally get the message. A large transformation program including HR, training and operational initiatives is developed to build on this epiphany.

Here is the important message for any change program:  Information is important; employees need to know what is happening - when, why, who, what and by whom.  However, equally important in organizational change, employees need to be involved in the process to be truly engaged.  This is where change professionals need to focus on the Aha! moments and engage their employees in the process of change.

Edited from an article by Marcia Xenitelis.  For access to case studies and more information on the types of strategies companies can implement to engage employees, visit

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