Bill Gates doesn’t shy away from communicating change to his company and to the world. Neither should you. The following Ten Commandments may not cover everything, when it comes to communicating change, but it’s a start:
1. Accept that there is no perfect way to communicate change.
Change is uncomfortable for leadership and for subordinates. Change isn’t painless, but it is possible to embrace the process and tackle any obstacles that occur. Encourage open communication both ways.
2. Always ask what is changing.
Leaders must lay off the jargon and get down to business. It’s not appropriate to be vague about necessary changes. Management must find out what is involved in the process and share it in an open and accurate manner with subordinates.
3. Know what you want.
While it may be apparent that something must change, it may not be clear why. Management should always discover the finer details before approaching subordinates about any needed changes. Doing otherwise is asking for unnecessary trouble.
4. Keep communication lines open.
Leaders must always be proactive in communicating with staff. Allowing the rumor mill to run rampant before bringing in professionals to handle tactful communication is a mistake. Leaders must always be proactive with communications.
5. Share information ASAP!
Don’t let employees hear about changes from other sources. Ensure staff is aware of upcoming changes as soon as possible. Scared staff will jump ship if they are surprised by impending changes that they perceive as a threat to their jobs.
6. Communicate relative information.
Many CEOs swear by the adage “You can’t communicate too much”. This may be true, as long as communications include material with substance. No one wants to be flooded with the inconsequential. Get to the heart of the matter and run with it.
7. Never underestimate the length of time required to implement change.
There are numerous reports of poor performance in project management following mergers and other major changes. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and organizations and people can’t be expected to change in a small amount of time. Many habits are ingrained and require sufficient time to make changes. Leadership must allow adequate time for change.
8. Communicate change through multiple communication modes.
Emails and communications can be missed or overlooked. Management should communicate change through several mediums to ensure that announcements aren’t overlooked by busy staff members.
9. Never confuse the process with actual communication.
Meetings and processes can be effective vehicles of communication for change management, but they aren’t part of the communication core. Leaders must use these methods in context, but they shouldn’t rely on them as the sole means of communicating change.
10. Offer staff and employees many opportunities to communicate.
It is true that everyone needs time to accept change. Sharing concerns, asking questions, and offering ideas can make the process smoother. Allow staff and employees time to absorb change and opportunities to participate in the process.
These “commandments” don’t offer a complete guide to communicating change. They are meant to offer some insight and help for leadership. Feel free to seek out more answers and add more “commandments” to the list as needed.