The Key to Managing Change

business conferenceQHow do you get to Carnegie hall?

A Practice, practice, practice.

QHow do you manage change?

ACommunicate, communicate, communicate.

Ask any consultant working in change management, read any article on how organizations can manage a major change and you’ll get the same advice:  the key to managing an organizational change is communication.

Sean Forkan makes this point, among others, in his column in the Toronto Globe and Mail about changes that Symantec Canada is undergoing.  As General Manager, he emphasizes the role of leaders in setting the example of transparent communication.

Yet, it is surprising how many organizations resist this advice.  “We don’t want to make the employees nervous,” they say, or “If they know what we’re planning, they’ll try to sabotage it.”

It has been our experience, however, that the exact opposite is true.  In the absence of communication, people get more nervous, not less, and more resistant to any kind of change.

We worked with one client who learned this lesson the hard way.  The leadership group kept the details of coming changes to themselves until decisions were announced, and the announcement contained only generic information about the rationale for the changes.  Questions from employees about their specific situations went unanswered.

The rumor mill went into overdrive and by the time the organization wanted to move ahead with implementation of the changes, a number of employees were not just resistant but openly hostile.

Lack of communication, especially during a time of change, breeds mistrust–and it’s hard to unring that bell.  So don’t ring it in the first place:

Communicate early and often.  There’s no such thing as over-communicating in stressful situations and times of change are among the most stressful for everyone involved.

Communicate honestly.  Acknowledge the difficulties of the change process and the pain it can cause.

Use two-way communication.  Don’t just push information out to employees; establish channels for feedback.

Communicate the vision.  Why are these changes necessary?  What’s the world going to look like once they are implemented?  How will employees benefit?

Even after you get to Carnegie Hall, you still have to practice.  And the same is true of change and communication–times are always changing and call for ongoing communication.  Heed the call.