Merge's Blog

Communicating change? Tell people why!

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted an installment in our ongoing video series on specific actions you can take to better manage your organizational change initiative.  However, I’m back today with another specific strategy, this one focusing on communicating change in a way that is effective and likely to bring people on board. Today’s tip: when it comes to communicating change, offer as much detail as you can about the why’s and how’s of the change.

Tell people why

People want to know why.  So take the time to explain it.

Several years ago, I was on my way to work with a client in an isolated area of northern Quebec in Canada.  In order to get to this community, I took a small commuter flight that made three stops at remote communities before finally arriving to my destination. At each of these three stops, we disembarked from the plane for about twenty minutes while it was refueled. At one of these stops however, twenty minutes elapsed and stretched into forty, and everyone in the small airport waiting room began to get more and more restless. Forty minutes became sixty, and the level of frustration in the room audibly increased.

By this point in time, even I wanted to know the reason for the delay. So I walked up to the young man at the airline desk and asked.  But he wouldn’t give me a straight answer.  Which caused me to get even more persistent as he gave me several evasive answers.  But eventually, he told me the truth.  In fact, it turned out to be a perfectly legitimate reason.

It was a legitimate reason … but he didn’t tell anyone

You see: a connecting flight from another community was late, and it contained several passengers that needed to connect to our flight.  Now I immediately understood the implications; because air service in these remote regions is once-daily, and because there are NO hotel amenities in these communities, it is critical not to miss a connecting flight when traveling in the area.  So the fact that they were waiting for this connecting flight was a legitimate reason to delay our flight.

Now here’s the crux of this situation — if the young man had simply made an announcement, explaining to passengers the reason for the delay, chances are that most people in the room would have immediately understood, just like I had, and accepted the situation.  But instead, by the time we finally boarded the flight an hour and fifteen minutes later, passengers were angry and irritated, and still completely in the dark about the real reason for the delay!  Nobody told them why!

If your employees don’t see the point, they won’t buy in

If your employees don’t see the point of the change; if they don’t see how the intended state is better than where they are right now, then they won’t “buy in”, and attitudes and behaviours simply won’t change.  In a benchmarking study done a few years ago, the number one reason employees resisted change was a lack of awareness of why the change was being made.  No one bothered to spend some time telling them why.  So don’t be that person!  Make sure you are communicating change.  Schedule information sessions, make time for one-on-one conversations, give people a chance to ask questions, and allow them time grasp your answers.  Communicating change is critical to your success as a change agent.

Unfortunately I repeatedly hear horror stories about organizations that seem to focus on keeping employees in the dark, rather than being transparent.  I would love to hear about your experiences with communicating change, good or bad.  Please share by adding a comment below.

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