The last few years have reminded us all of the importance of mastering change, as a way for businesses to survive, compete effectively, and grow sustainably. Yet, so few organizations are great at managing change.
70% of change initiatives fail to achieve their goals, largely due to employee resistance. People don’t like change and employees experience an emotional journey during organizational change.
More so than change, we are wired to fear the unknown. When we stay silent, people fear the worst. Well-managed internal comms are essential to successfully guiding employees through their change journey. They integrate employees in the transition process by keeping them informed and involved. As a matter of fact, studies show that employee-centric internal comms are likely the biggest determinant of a successful change management process.
Here are 5 ways in which internal communications contribute to effective change management.
1. Internal communications can help employees navigate through the different stages of change/loss acceptance
Change scares employees because it can create undesired outcomes, which can go from unfamiliarity with the work environment, to losing one’s job. As a result, employees go through different stages of change/loss acceptance during periods of change.
According to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ change curve, when change or loss occurs, we start by denying and resisting the upcoming change before actually trying to explore the new situation and committing to it.
While it’s unrealistic to seek to eliminate all feelings of discomfort during a change process, a healthy communication strategy can help employees better adjust to the change at every stage.
a) Shock & Denial stage:
This is when employees are in shock at the event, and look for evidence that what’s happening is not true.
This is a critical phase where internal comms need to be extremely consistent and informative. This means communicating the same information through multiple channels, multiple times, and providing context and rationale for what’s to come, but without overwhelming staff.
The key question that employees are asking themselves at this stage is: “What’s going to change for me?” When employees clearly understand the “why” behind the decision, without getting confused by conflicting messaging, shock will dissipate instead of worsening.
b) Frustration & Depression Stage:
This is the stage where employees feel anxious about the change. They may express resistance to change, and sometimes anger or depression, and they hold onto the past.
While employees need the most information during the shock & denial stage, at the frustration stage what matters most is support.
Internal comms teams can be supportive by encouraging and initiating open conversations in town halls, focus groups or asynchronous (digital) forums. This allows employees to voice concerns and ask questions, making them feel heard, answering their questions, and helping them deal with their frustration.
c) Engaged Stage:
This is when employees start to feel more positively about the change, and try to understand what it will mean for them.
During this phase, productivity will drop a little, because employees are spending time and energy learning new skills to successfully embrace change. Internal comms can impact productivity positively by improving employee engagement. This is also the right moment to deliver trainings and workshops to help employees gain the skills needed.
During the pandemic, PepsiCo launched an employee recognition platform called “Smiles2Go”. The goal was to maintain communication, connection, and recognition between employees, which are all known to increase engagement in remote settings. PepsiCo’s 2020 internal survey showed that their employees felt high levels of pride, were motivated to work, and had confidence in the company’s future success.
PepsiCo exited the crisis with exponential growth: the company generated $70 billion in net revenue in 2020. While this success is largely credited to the many business initiatives that PepsiCo successfully implemented, such as keeping supply chains resilient, the role of internal comms in keeping the organization aligned and productive cannot be overlooked.
Read more about how Pepsico leveraged internal comms during a crisis here.
Internal comms can also help individuals and teams improve their effectiveness by providing information and support that directly impact their effectiveness. For example, by sending tips about how to leverage company software, or sharing helpful templates.
d) Optimistic & Integration stage:
This is when employees come to terms with the change, and accept their new reality. If you got the previous stages right, it is also when the change is actually in place, and employees are going on with their workday without much disruption.
Now is the time to communicate about the positive outcome of the change. Share stories from change ambassadors or leaders. Ensure that small wins are celebrated and made public. Launch company events to bring employees together, celebrate the change, and keep the positivity going!
2. Maintaining company culture, a predictor of change management success, is an internal comms responsibility
A cohesive company culture can help your organization adjust to change more easily. Keeping your company culture top of mind is the role of the internal comms team. Here’s how doing that can help with effective change management.
a) Communicating in alignment with your values during a change process, creates familiarity and keeps your purpose as a northern star.
Your internal comms should always reflect your company values For example, if being open about how you feel is a part of your culture, encourage group discussions about what this change means to everyone. If one of your values is curiosity, encourage employees to educate themselves on the change process that is taking place and have them present some of their learnings to their peers.
b) Values play an important role in successful adoption of change
Good internal comms is always aligned with the company’s values, and helps employees leverage these values to adapt to change. For example, if teamwork is one of your values, remind your employees that even with the new organizational change, they can still ask for help when they need it, and are encouraged to collaborate and support one another. This will reinforce the idea that as a company you are loyal to your values, which in turn will make the change feel less unfamiliar.
Curious to learn how to promote your values through internal comms? Check out our article!
3. Good internal comms allow for two-way engagement, which is essential to support employees who are dealing with change
Employees who feel heard are 4.6 times more likely to want to do their best work, and change programs with high-impact two-way communication are more likely to succeed by 4x. Two-way engagement provides both information and support to employees, and encourages them to share their thoughts and feedback.
Good internal comms teams know how to leverage their channels for two-way engagement. Whether it’s through instant messaging, a Zoom call, a pulse survey, or in a town hall, internal comms teams need to encourage employees to speak their minds openly, and use the feedback they receive in order to measure employee morale, communicate feedback from the organization to the change management team and leaders, iterate on theirs comms strategy, and improve their messaging.
Another benefit of two-way engagement is that internal comms can then better prepare and train leaders to respond to the questions coming from the organization.
Need to survey your organization about internal comms? Download our free internal comms survey template!
4. Internal comms can help leaders present a united vision of the future
A Towers Watson study showed that while 68% of senior managers say they understand why organizational change is happening, only 53% of middle managers get the message, and 40% of front-line supervisors.
In order to successfully implement change management, leaders at every level need to demonstrate consistency and alignment. Internal comms should ensure all leaders are communicating the same information, and have consistent messaging. This establishes more trust and cohesion.
Many internal comms teams forget that leaders and middle managers are in fact a channel. They should be dealt with in the same way, with a clear agenda for what they share, how often, and using which formats.
Internal comms teams should train executives on how to communicate internally, in the same way PR trains them for media appearances. For example, by letting them know what to answer when they get a specific question. That way, leaders will not only be more consistent, but also more confident when communicating the change, making employees feel more reassured.
5. The internal comms calendar is a great way to align change initiatives
Change management involves interventions across various practices (upskilling, organizational change, technology system upgrades…). It is crucial to have full alignment in the timing and execution of these initiatives in order to maintain consistent execution and messaging.
Effective internal comms are proactive. Proactivity requires planning ahead. While leaders or change management offices lay down their plan for managing upcoming change, internal comms teams can start putting together their communication plan, calendar, and messaging.
An internal comms calendar backward plans what everyone involved in change management is going to do. By solidifying an internal comms plan, all the other internal stakeholders will have a clear schedule and deadlines to work towards be they town halls, trainings, or any other events or activities.
In order to adapt to change, employees need clear and consistent information on what is happening, and internal comms essential to that process. That is why successful change management cannot be done without good internal comms.
If you need help with internal comms during change management, book a one-on-one with us today.