Communicating Through Organizational Change

Kylie Quetell Change, Change Management, Communication, Culture, Employee Coaching, employee experience, HR, Managing People, Organizational Development, Retention, Talent Management, The HR Profession, Training and Development

I recently delivered a presentation to my organization that will have a huge impact on the lives of our team members. I believe that the impact will be a very positive one. Regardless of this, change is change. Which is to say that change is hard. But why? Why is it so hard to have successful organizational change, and how do we work through it?

According to Tony Robbins, there are 6 shared psychological human needs, one of which is certainty.

“Because there is no certainty about what will happen during a time of change, many people either try to control events or other people or they simply shut down.” – Tony Robbins

Dig further back into psychology and you’ll find that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs lists safety, which in this context would mean protection, order, and stability. Additionally, Maslow characterized love and belongingness, with trust and affiliation being paramount.

In other words – if change scares you, you aren’t resistant or weird. You’re actually quite normal.

Fear of change cannot stunt the progress of an organization.

The only thing constant is change. This means that change must be managed in order to be successful. Dr. Sarah Stebbins, states,

“… I have learned that organizations don’t change unless their employees change.”

She’s right! This is why communication is so important when undergoing organizational change. In Stebbins’ article, she summarized a Prosci study that identified four of the biggest obstacles to organizational change:

  1. Ineffective change management sponsorship from senior leaders
  2. Resistance to change from employees
  3. Middle management resistance
  4. Poor communication

Clear communication from the very top can alleviate many of the above concerns, #4 being the most obvious–duh. With strong consensus-building techniques, “why” stories, and constant communication, leadership and team members alike will be able to buy into change. By clearly describing a future state and negotiating a commitment from all parties, certainty can be created and maintained.

Take a tip from Seeds for Change and their description of consensus building:

“Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group … a consensus group is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports – or at least can live with.”

The keys to building consensus are respectful dialogue, common goals, commitment to reaching consensus, and active participation. This can be a difficult task if you have a large organization. It is very unlikely that all team members will leave their workstations to collaborate. That’s ok! This exercise can be a great way to get senior leaders on board. If you want to go deeper, you can send a survey, hold focus groups, or nominate representatives from different audiences.

The Center for Creative Leadership conducted a study and was able to define 3 C’s of Change Leadership.

  1. Communicate
  2. Collaborate
  3. Commit

Again, the importance of clear and consistent communication is highlighted.

“Unsuccessful leaders tended to focus on the ‘what’ behind the change. Successful leaders communicated the ‘what’ and the ‘why.’ Leaders who explained the purpose of the change and connected it to the organization’s values or explained the benefits created stronger buy-in and urgency for the change.”

Psychological theory creates a strong defense for why humans react to change so poorly. However, organizational change will only work if all parties are bought in from senior leaders to employees. The best way to lead successfully through change is through clear communication where parties feel heard and understand the greater “why.”

My own example of delivering and leading through change is still unfolding. This is not a set-it-and-forget-it undertaking, but I do believe that intentional dialogue will help me see it all through to the finish line.