Communicating change is the job of the leader and supervisor. But no one has argued that it would be a quick, easy, or even pleasant task.
I asked a few experienced business leaders what they find – based on their experience – as the most challenging thing in change communication. They have been in various roles in leading big and small changes in their organizations.
They highlighted the themes they considered challenging, which everyone who communicated about the change would surely recognize:
- Defining a common goal for change and concrete milestones
- If you don’t know enough about yourself or have to take forward a change outside your area of responsibility without proper background discussions
- When your team perceives something negative, or you need to communicate about thing that raises negative emotions or strong resistance
- Creating psychological security and taking into account people’s diversity
- How to find enough time and energy for all the necessary conversations?
All of these challenges revolve around the fact that we are people and work with people.
Crystallize the need and purpose of change
The company leader, marinated in many big changes, summed up the challenges like this: the most challenging thing is to make everyone see the need for change. One wants to stay in the familiar comfort zone. It’s easy to justify everything being good just like that.
Therefore, the background and need for change needs to be opened up so that everyone in your organization understands it. It requires the leader to be able to explain clearly and interestingly why change is needed. The high level corporate jargon sounds empty and insignificant to many people. Unfortunately, abstract fuss doesn’t ignite anyone – except perhaps in top management meeting rooms.
That’s why a leader’s change communication challenges start with change planning. How can a clear and concrete, sufficiently common understanding of what and why is to be changed be built? If the team sees the change as uncomfortable or unwanted, the challenge factor increases immediately. “Even if you see the benefits of change yourself, it’s sometimes hard to get these heard, understood, or accepted,” says the leader who led the various teams.
So shape the need for change so that your team understands it. Speak their language, speak with them. Together, seek an answer to what this means for us in our daily work.
Do not leave middle management alone
A middle management is struggling with a double-edged challenge of change. “Often changes come from outside your area of responsibility. It is difficult, if I do not know enough about the change and its need, grounds and facts,” says one of the interviewees.
When you are familiar with the matter and have been able to prepare it yourself, communication will be easier. In this case, you can also plan better content for change communication and be able to answer your own team’s questions more comprehensively.
So don’t leave your middle management and supervisors alone with slide deck to bring change in their teams! Make sure they understand what it’s all about and that they get support. Help them, but let them do change communication work with their own teams.
Make sure supervisors and middle management have time to make the change. Getting people involved requires a lot of repetition, presence, and face-to-face discussion. Not many changes can be made at the same time, because everyone requires their own input and time.
Help your people through change
However, the communication challenges of change do not end there. As a leader, your job is to help your people go through change. Change always requires hard work so that we want to give up the old and start doing things permanently in a new way. That is simply because we are human beings.
Communicating change requires a presence and a deep understanding— not just about change but also about human nature. The fact is that no operating model or process changes and no new application or system is properly deployed before people change. Only this way can the benefits of change be achieved.
We humans are different. For a leader, it is a special challenge for change communication. One is convinced of what she hears, the other of what she sees. The third wants to try it for herself before convincing herself of the change. The leades does not always remember, or know how to bring up all the perspectives that team members need to be convinced.
One of the interviewees calls building psychological security challenging. It takes a lot of work to demonstrate the benefits of new practices in the early stages and build faith when failures do occur as they always does. An effective way is to notice even small successes and thereby create faith in the progress of change.
Leader, take care of yourself
Your project manager will usually handle the technical side of the change, such as schedules, budget, and technical solutions. Your most important role as a leader is to take care of the human side of change. It is making sure that people change their thinking and daily activities so that the benefits of the change will be achieved.
As I said at the beginning, it is not easy and not always pleasant. The leader must work with her whole personality. For example, a leader who has had during his career e.g. to lay off about a thousand employees and close an entire business unit, says it was challenging to face hundreds of employees and their outburst of feelings.
That’s why I have one important request for you, leader. Take care of yourself. Rest and pay attention to where progress has already been made. Change is a slow marathon where you need pit stops, refueling and recovery during the trip. Make sure you have someone with whom you can chat and relieve pressure or consider appropriate approaches. While communicating change can be challenging, it doesn’t have to be lonely.