Managing Change: 10 Tips to Improve Communication

When it comes to implementing any new initiative, communication is a critical success factor. A full menu of changes; some large and sweeping, some small but critical, will be generated by and with people in the organization over the course of the effort. How leadership chooses to broadly communicate these changes ― all together, in small or large portions, or one-on-one, can make a huge difference in the rate of adoption. It’s important to carefully consider how, when, why, what and where information / updates will be presented to fully engage employees and, ultimately, drive sustainable improvements.

The way information is communicated to employees during times of change has a tremendous impact on the final results. If handled ineffectively, morale and productivity decreases ― despite the best of intentions. When there are looming questions and concerns, they lose faith. If employees don’t receive enough information, speculation and rumor can become truth. In the end, a disengaged workforce emerges, communicate for better engagementresulting in reduced effort and commitment just when their dedication is needed the most. How do you stop or prevent this from happening?

Leadership should consider these 10 ideas when planning for, announcing, implementing, and communicating Lean transformation activities:

1. Get Qualified Communicators Involved

It’s important for organizations to get their internal communications team involved from the very beginning. Too often, qualified communicators are involved after a backlash is in full force ― when leaks and rumors are rampant. CFOs and COOs are not typically qualified to understand how employees will respond to change and how best to share information. On the other hand, qualified internal communications professionals typically have proven expertise in change management, crisis communications, executive communications, etc. They need to have a seat at the leadership table.

2. Establish a Communications Plan

Don’t confuse process (e.g., visioning, chartering executive steering committees, planning, endless PowerPoint presentations, etc.) with communication. While those meetings and processes can be communication vehicles if designed mindfully and handled in the context of a broader program, they aren’t adequate to meet all communication needs.

3. Communicate Early

Once a plan and timeline has been developed based on the initiative strategy, start communicating. The longer employees have to wrap their heads around change, the better they tend to accept it. At the beginning of the change:

  • Communicate employee benefits first ― starting with “how this change helps the organization” can create a sense of injustice, so focus on employees first;
  • Identify why the change is necessary and what will happen if there is no change;
  • Explain how the changes fit into the overall business strategy and the organization’s priorities;
  • Review the process, including what will be done to involve everyone in it;
  • Discuss timing and when they will get more information.

4. Communicate Often

Update employees regularly to share victories and address pending issues. When employees are communicated with frequently, they are more likely to support the change for the long-term. Information can and should also be repeated (through multiple channels), as research shows that most people have to hear something several times before they fully process the message.

5. Use Multiple Communication Channels

Some organizations make the mistake of using only one vehicle, such as e-mail or signage, to communicate changes. Considering not every employee digests information the same way, and that there are so many options to choose from, organizations that leverage a multi-channel approach ― combining email, intranet, social chat rooms, newsletters, presentations, face-to-face meetings, conference calls, etc. ― have more success.

6. Prepare Spokespeople

Leadership does not only need to understand how to explain the transformation, they need to understand when they should and should not be the ones to speak about it. They need to know how to keep things positive. They also need to be able to drill down and explain what change means to various audiences. Keeping them in sync is critical.

7. Test Your Communications

It is often useful to test out messaging on a subset of stakeholders, especially when there’s time to do so. Testing can be done through focus groups, employee surveys, or a more informal round-table where individuals can practice delivering the message and get first-hand feedback.

8. Provide Ample Opportunities to Share Feedback

Giving employees multiple opportunities to share concerns, ask questions, and offer ideas is crucial to the process. The more two-way communication is made a priority, the better the organization can keep its finger on the pulse of what future communications need to include to meet the needs of the audience.

9. Make Change Part of Day-To-Day Work

To get employees to fully embrace change, a management system, like Kaufman Global’s Lean Daily Management System® (LDMS®), should be put into place to drive day-to-day focus. LDMS helps visualize activities and promote active communication about the work of individual teams every day. It:

  • Supports and reinforces clarity of purpose at all levels of the organization;
  • Builds continuous improvement and disciplined execution into day-to-day work;
  • Involves and develops people;
  • Creates a culture of collaboration and accountability.

10. Become a Role Model

People judge the performance of leaders not by what they say but by what they do. Employees will watch closely to determine how leadership is feeling about the change and will draw their own conclusions based on that behavior. Leaders should:

  • Convey that they are personally committed to the changes by active participation and sponsorship;
  • Be open to discussion with employees regarding the changes;
  • Express confidence in the team’s ability to make it through the changes;
  • Seek and incorporate input to make the changes work.

Employee Participation: 5 Ways to Boost Engagement

Over the past 25 years, we’ve worked with clients around the world by supporting and / or leading Lean initiatives. If there’s any major “lesson learned” we’ve taken away, it’s that employee engagement is critical to success. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a magic potion that could be consumed throughout an enterprise to solve problems or improve efficiencies? Unfortunately, it will never be that simple. The rate, degree and level of change for Continuous Improvement endeavors hinges on people.

Within any transformation journey, employees must be empowered and engaged. Improvement happens in the field, on the factory floor, and within the office one employee at a time. When effective leadership support is in place, employees are more likely to embrace change. Without it… Not so much. There must be concentrated focus on active engagement ― connecting employees to the work they control.

It’s well known  that as employee engagement increases, so too does organizational performance. So what are the top, most proven methods for increasing employee engagement? Integro Leadership Institute President Keith Ayers recently identified five leadership skills that are most effective.

#1 Build Trust

Trust is an essential ingredient in increasing engagement. The first thing leaders need to know about building trust is that it does not happen just because you are trustworthy. People do not know how trustworthy you are until you demonstrate it by using trust building behaviors and the most important of these behaviors is to trust others. We build trust by trusting others. This requires a basic belief in people, a belief that people are essentially trustworthy. After all, if you have untrustworthy employees, why did you hire them and why are they still there?

#2 Mentor

The relationship between the employee and his or her immediate manager is a critical factor in how engaged the employee will be. We have to get away from the idea that Managers cannot mentor the people who report to them. Employees need feedback; they need to know how they are performing regularly ― not just once a year at review time. They must be able to discuss their needs for growth and development with a Manager who cares about them. Effective leaders need to give and receive feedback — to coach and counsel employees in a way that increases engagement and commitment.

#3 Inclusion

Whether employees feel like an insider or an outsider also impacts their level of engagement. Effective leaders know that everyone on their team has strengths the team needs, and they know how to get the best out of each person regardless of their ethnic background, gender, age or sexual orientation. They understand that people with different personal values can work together effectively when they commit to the same values about trustworthiness and standards of work performance.

#4 Alignment

Engaged employees feel aligned with their organization’s Purpose, Values and Vision. Their work is meaningful to them because their leader helps them see the connection between what they do and the success of the organization. The effective leader also understands that gaining their team’s commitment to the organization’s values increases the team’s performance standards as well as their engagement.

#5 Team Development

Effective leaders understand the potential for significant increases in performance through high performing teams. They make sure that all team members understand the strengths they and other team members bring to the team and work at developing a process that capitalizes on all of these strengths. The leader’s focus is on developing the leadership potential of each team member and ultimately implementing a shared leadership approach to continuously improve performance that is owned by the team.

Each of the skills above are needed to fully engage employees. In fact, engagement and subsequent results are diminished if any of them are missing.  At Kaufman Global, our implementation approach is focused on linking leaders and employees to change initiatives by providing a structure within which the tools of Continuous Improvement are consistently applied. By applying Lean Daily Management System ® (LDMS ®) and other methods, we generate engagement and ownership. These practices also drive those critically important business results.

To learn more about how to leverage LDMS to improve engagement — and, ultimately, sustainability — click here to download Kaufman Global’s white paper, “Leading Purposeful Change with the Lean Daily Management System.”

See also: Lean Daily Management Services Page.

See also: LDMS blog article.