Leadership has as its
corner stone, the ability to communicate.
When we use the word communicate, we are
referring not only to the words one uses to
transfer factual information to others, but
also to other "messages" that are sent and
What might these other
messages be? Related to change the leader
sends a good number of messages. These are
The leader communicates:
A sense of confidence
and control (or lack thereof) to
His or her own
feelings about the change.
The degree to which
he/she trusts the abilities of the
employees to get through the change.
A sense of purpose
and commitment (or lack thereof).
The degree to which
he/she accepts the reactions and
feelings of employees.
regarding behavior that is seen as
appropriate or inappropriate (i.e.
Rumor-mongering, back-room meetings).
The degree to which
he/she is "connected to" employees
situations and feelings or is "in-touch"
It is clear that if the
leader communicates effectively, he or she
will be sending messages that decrease
resistance, and encourage moving through the
change more effectively and positively. The
bottom line with all of this is if you screw
up communicating with employees, even the
smallest changes can result in ugly
There are all kinds of
models of communication, some basic and some
complex. For our purposes communication can
be described as CREATING UNDERSTANDING. \
Through words, actions,
body language, voice tone, and other
processes you send many messages about
yourself, the changes, and your
organization. This constitutes precisely
one-half of the communication process. The
second half consists of verifying that the
message you intended to send was actually
received and interpreted the way you
intended. The only way that you can be sure
you have created understanding is to listen
to the people you are communicating with,
and make special effort to encourage them to
reflect back to you what they have heard
(and what they make of it).
communicate in a way that seems clear to
you, the receiver of the communication
filters the information through a very
complicated set of pre- conceptions that
can function to distort the message
selectively. They hear and process some
things and gate out other things. That
means that while you may have explained
the "whole picture", is it likely that
the whole thing wasn't received.
The ONLY way you can
ensure that you have created common
understanding is by asking the other
people what they have heard, and what
their reactions are to it.
Messages Regarding Changes
Since we have indicated
that communication involves sending a
variety of important messages, it is
important that when you communicate about
change you know what kind of messages you
wish to send, and what you want people to
take away from your communication.
Whenever you communicate to employees about
change, you should be striving to convey the
That you are
personally committed to the change, and
seeing it through, even if it has
That you recognize
that the change negatively impacts upon
That you are open to
discussion of the feelings of employees
regarding the change.
That you are
confident that the "team" can make it
through the changes.
That you want and
need input to make the changes work.
Sometimes you won't be
committed to the change, or you won't be
very confident that you and your staff can
pull it off, particularly when the change is
imposed from above. While some may disagree,
it is important that you still convey an
image of strength and commitment despite
your own misgivings. The change leader has a
role to play, and if you have misgivings or
strong negative emotional reactions of your
own it may be more effective if you
underplay them. If you show anger about a
change, you may legitimize the same kind of
negative behavior in your staff.
While you shouldn't hide
your own negative reactions completely, it
is probably wise to keep them in the
background by stating them in a matter of
fact way and moving on.
and Change -- Who, What, When, How?
As a change leader you
need to make decisions about who you must
communicate with, what needs to be
communicated, when you will communicate and
how you will do it. We will take a look at
each of these in turn.
Managers sometimes have a
tendency to communicate about change on a
"need to know basis". However, effective
change leaders recognize that almost any
change will have effects on most people in
an organization, no matter how removed they
are from the change.
The basic rule of thumb
is that communication should take place
directly between the manager and employees
when employees NEED TO KNOW OR WANT TO KNOW.
Except for situations
that involve confidentiality, even those who
are indirectly affected will likely want to
know what is going on, and how it may affect
them. This applies to your own staff, and
those organizations that are related to you
(i.e. Other branches within a division or
department, client organizations, etc).
You are better off
over-including people in your communication,
than leaving people out.
If you need to determine
what to communicate, keep in mind what you
are trying to accomplish through your
communication about change. When you
communicate you are trying to:
Give information that
will reduce uncertainty and ambiguity
regarding the change.
Pre-empt the hidden
information system of the grapevine, so
you can ensure that incorrect anxiety
provoking information is not spreading.
Provide forums for
employees to communicate their reactions
and concerns to you.
If you would like another
rule of thumb, when deciding what should be
communicated, communicate as much
information about the change as is available
to you. Obviously, you need to exercise
judgment where there is confidential and/or
sensitive information involved, or where
your information may be unreliable.
Be aware that if you only
have a small amount of information about a
negative change, communicating it may
increase anxiety levels and rampant
speculation. You should also be aware that
if you have preliminary information about a
change, that others do also, and that it is
likely that your employees will hear rumors
regardless of what you disclose.
Finally, keep in mind
that you are communicating messages about
the facts of the change, and also about your
own reactions to it. As a change leader, you
must be aware that your staff will watch you
carefully to guess how you are feeling about
the change, and they will draw their own
conclusions based on your behavior.
Sometimes these conclusions will be wrong
If you choose to state
your own reactions to the change, state them
quickly (particularly if they are negative).
The longer you wait to
communicate details of change, the more
likely you are to extend the period of
adjustment. This is because it is very
difficult to "keep a lid" on anything in
government, and even if you are silent, your
staff will likely hear vague things through
the grapevine. Grapevine information tends
to be sketchy enough that it creates a high
degree of anxiety, and also a high degree of
mistrust of management.
So, the earlier you
communicate the less likely erroneous or
upsetting information will come through the
grapevine. Communicate as early as possible
about change, but do not assume that once
you have done this the job is over.
occur in anticipation of change, during the
implementation, and after the change has
Issue #1: Group or
Another decision you need
to address is what needs to be communicated
in group settings, and what needs to be
addressed in one-on-one meetings with
employees. What are the advantages of each
Communicating in groups
ensures that each person present is hearing
the same information at the same time. Group
communication also allows people to interact
with each other about the changes and can
help people develop a sense of team,
particularly in a climate of adversity.
Communicating in groups
also has some disadvantages. In many
organizations there will be people who will
not feel comfortable talking in a group
context. The more "personal" the effects of
the change, the more likely people will
withdraw from the group process.
A second danger of group
communication is that one or two
particularly vocal and negative people can
set the tone for the group, and foster
unproductive negative discussion. While
expressions of concerns about change are
healthy, the "doom- sayer" can cause this
process to become destructive. For this
reason, group communication needs to be
managed with skill and expertise. Sometimes
an external facilitator is necessary.
Finally, there are some
issues that cannot be discussed within a
group. For example, in downsizing
situations, it is inappropriate to announce
to a group that John and Mary are losing
their jobs. When changes are likely to
create a high degree of upset to
individuals, they must be dealt with in
Communicating on a
one-to-one basis has the advantage of
privacy. When bad news is communicated, the
person receiving the news is less pressured
to withhold their reactions. One-to-one
communication also allows more in-depth
exploration of the person's feelings, ideas
and reactions to the change.
A disadvantage to using
one-to-one communication is that it may
fragment your team. There is also a
possibility that you will send slightly
different messages to different staff
Most situations require
both group communication and one-to-one
communication. They compliment each other.
Using only one or the other will create
Below are some
You need to ensure
everybody hears the news at the same
You want to encourage
group discussion to generate ideas and
the problem solving process.
You want to increase
the sense of team.
You wish to set the
stage for individual meetings. For
example, in a lay-off situation, you can
call a short group meeting to announce
the lay-offs generally, then immediately
meet individually with each staff member
to inform them of their status.
The changes are
likely to cause a high degree of
emotionalism that is better dealt with
You want to ensure
that shyer people have a chance to
The changes involve
elements that should remain confidential
(pay or classification changes,
employment status, etc).
You need to have
detailed discussion about the change
with specific people.
Issue #2: Written
There is a tendency for
people to avoid unpleasant interactions, and
sometimes managers will use written
communication to avoid the discomfort of
dealing face to face with staff. While
written communication can play an important
role in communicating about change, it
should not be used for this reason alone.
Below are some guidelines regarding the use
of written versus oral communication.
Oral communication is
more appropriate when:
Receiver is not very
interested in getting the message. Oral
communication provides more
opportunities for getting and keeping
interest and attention.
Emotions are high.
Oral communication provides chances for
both you and the other person to let off
steam, cool down, and create a climate
You need feedback.
It's easier to get feedback by observing
body language and asking questions.
The other person is
too busy or preoccupied to read. Oral
communication provides better
opportunities to gain attention.
You need to convince
or persuade. Oral communication provides
more flexibility, opportunity for
emphasis, chances to listen to and
remove resistance, and is more likely to
affect people's attitudes.
The details and
issues are complicated, and cannot be
well expressed on paper.
is appropriate if:
You require a record
of the communication for future
Your staff will be
referring to details of the change
You are communicating
something with multiple parts or steps
and where it is important that employees
Generally, it is wise to
use both written and oral communication. The
more emotional the issues, the more
important it is to stress oral communication
first. Written communication can be used as
As a change leader,
communication is your primary and most
important tool. We have attempted to outline
some of the important parts of the
communication process, but short of writing
an entire book on the subject, it is
difficult to discuss all the subtleties and
issues about human communication.
There is no substitute
for good judgment, and change leaders need
to be reflective and thoughtful about the
ways they communicate. There is also no
substitute for LISTENING, and receiving
feedback from your staff and colleagues
about how you communicate. You may make
communication mistakes, but the mark of an
effective change leader is that these
mistakes are quickly identified through
feedback and discussion, and corrective
action is taken.
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