How do you communicate change to disgruntled employees and win their support and co-operation? In this fast-paced age of information and technological growth, change is inevitable — whether we wish it or not. So, how do you get your unwilling workforce on board? According to James O’Toole, the author of Leading Change, leaders who assume their employees will accept change simply because they are told to are doomed to failure.
It is challenging enough to communicate change to an engaged and positive workforce. It becomes more difficult when the employees are uncooperative and disgruntled. In order to communicate effectively, it is first essential to appreciate their reasons for resisting change. These range from dislike of instability; lack of comfort with change; being wary of sacrificing self-interests; hesitation in facing uncertainty and risk, and the accompanying stress; and simple office politics. Instead of welcoming potential benefits, human nature tends to fear the unknown and the unpredictable that threaten a sense of security.
This resistance is compounded if the employees perceive the change as being thrust upon them. And the main cause of this perception is lack of proper communication. Employees need to clearly understand all the Ws of change: the what, when and, most importantly, why. Therefore, anticipate resistance and understand its reasons in order to prepare effective strategies to communicate change. In particular, involve disgruntled employees; make them understand and become part of the transition, and they will be better inclined to buy into the change.
Here are some dos and don’ts of communicating change effectively:
- Expect resistance and accept that it is normal
- Communicate clearly, calmly, confidently and in a straightforward manner all the information you have, and also tell people what you don’t know
- Understand that communication is a two-way process and therefore allow employees to ask questions, any questions, not just what you want to hear; listen carefully to all they have to ask and say, and empathise with their situation
- Value others’ ideas and input, and whether you can use them or not, let it be known they matter
- Elicit feedback and guide the disgruntled employees from start to finish through the change process by clearly explaining the purpose for the change and painting a picture of the future benefits after the change has taken place
- Allow employees to contribute so they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility
- Share your vision to make it a common goal; for this, understand the nature of your staff and suit your communication style to match their personality types
- Talk to your employees, not at them; how you communicate your thoughts and ideas are just as important as the ideas themselves; so watch out for your body language
- Create a change manager or hire a change management agent to work with the employees and keep communication on-going; if you don’t, the grapevine will go into over drive
- Just look forward and talk about the future neglecting the past; it is just as important to deal with the loss, with what has been as with what will be
- Spin or hide any vital information; transparency creates trust
- Ignore the WIIFM (or, What’s In It For Me) factor; motivate your employees with some reward, however small
- React emotionally to negative feedback; remain calm and confident, and keep the issues separate from the individuals
- Use coercion or threats; negativity of disgruntled employees can contaminate the atmosphere of the entire team
Make disgruntled employees part of the transition by aligning them with you and work toward a common goal. According to veteran business consultant William Bridges (Managing Transitions, 2003) communication most often fails when companies fail to put the effort into helping people mentally make the transition. On the other hand, successful communication gives employees a clear purpose and picture, and a plan for the future that includes them in some participatory role. The bottom line is, if you cannot successfully influence your disgruntled employees and get their support in times of change, you risk losing not just them but your business.
As Charles Darwin rightly said: “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change”.
About the Author: Declan Mulkeen is Marketing Director at Communicaid a culture and business communication skills consultancy which provides cultural awareness training.