Four Ways to Communicate Change in the Workplace

A new supervisor, a department consolidation, a new compensation policy- poor communication around these big changes can cause employees to feel anxious, upset and disengaged. How you deliver the big news is key to helping your employees see this change as a positive step rather than something that’s disruptive and potentially threatening to their position.

These are the four basic elements every leader needs to communicate during periods of organizational change:

1. What Is Changing?

When announcing the change, don't hide behind vague words or industry jargon. Speak in simple, straightforward language and break down the big change on a practical level. Consider the change from your employees' perspective. If your company is consolidating divisions, for example, a natural worry will be what happens to redundant positions. Will there be layoffs? Will employees be reassigned? If possible, address these concerns head-on in your announcement. Get out in front as quickly as possible before the rumor mill begins swirling.

  • Avoid saying: "We're rightsizing this department to be more agile."
  • Try saying: "We're going to consolidate Catherine's team with Elizabeth's team. While some job responsibilities will shift, everyone will continue to play an important role in our company's growth."

2. How Is the Change Happening?

The unknown is scary. When announcing a change, employees will immediately wonder, "How does this affect my daily life?" Share specifics for how you expect the team to act, think and perform following this change. You don't need to get bogged down in tactical details, but you should share enough that employees can begin to envision what their new workdays will be like. Help your team feel confident that you have a clear vision for the team moving forward.

  • Avoid saying: "We're putting together a plan and will share more in the coming weeks."
  • Try saying: "Elizabeth, you'll work closely with Catherine on the new budget so both teams will be well represented. Keith, you'll take the lead on merging our databases."

3. Why Is This Change Being Made?

Your employees do not need to know everything that’s happening behind the scenes, but you should share enough that they feel confident in your company’s direction and leadership. When a change seems arbitrary or disconnected from your company’s mission, employees can worry they’re part of a “sinking ship” and will start looking for other opportunities.

  • Avoid saying: “We decided to test out a new operations system and see how it impacts production speed.”
  • Try saying: "As you may know, we lost a big client earlier this year, and we don’t want that to happen again. We took a close look at all our operations and identified three opportunities to improve production speed without sacrificing quality."

4. What Was the Process Behind This Change?

Again, this may not be the time for total disclosure, but candor will go a long way towards generating goodwill. When your team feels like they have insight into the decision-making process and why other options were not chosen, it's easier to build consensus for the chosen option. Sometimes, a change may be a disappointing choice and you wish things turned out differently, too. It's okay to let employees know this. Being honest - without being overly critical - can instill confidence in your leadership capabilities.

  • Avoid saying: “Our top competitor uses this system so we decided to try it, too. I’m not really sure it will work but I guess we will see what happens.”
  • Try saying: "We considered several options and are confident this is the best choice because it offers the greatest cost-savings without impacting our overall product quality. This is not what I was expecting initially, but after discussing all our options with the teams who will be affected, I'm excited to see what we can create here together.

When communicating change, remember that your body language can be just as important as the words you choose. Your facial expressions, gestures, and how you angle your body toward your audience can send a powerful message. Are you communicating confidence and credibility or arrogance and indifference towards your team? Don’t let your body gestures conflict with your verbal message. End by opening a two-way communication channel, such as private office hours, so employees can discuss their concerns further.

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