The power of communication in supporting and driving change

Georgia Marsh, Marketing and Communications Manager Change management

Every interaction we have with the world is a form of communication. Whether it be verbal, physical, digital or virtual, communication is how we connect with one another and with the world around us. Our ability to communicate directly impacts both our personal and professional lives, as well as the interactions we have on an individual or group level. It’s also a skill that is highly sought after. In fact, Forbes lists it amongst the top 20 skills that employers look for in candidates. Yet, when it comes to the workplace, it’s an underutilised tool to support and deliver business transformation.

The complexity of communication

We know there are around 7,000 living languages that exist in the world today, but this is only one factor that plays into the complexity of our interactions. Communication is defined as the exchange of information. What makes communication so interesting (and challenging) is that the success of the information exchange is subject to the interpretation of the message receiver. Every individual communicates differently too, and that’s why the deliverers and distributors of business communication must consider a careful approach when aligning it with change.

How communication supports change management in the world of work

Change management refers to the structured preparation, support and facilitation of organisational change. Change can include alterations to process, technology, strategy and much more. The primary goal of change management is to help employees and business smoothly transition from the current state to the desired state, avoiding as much resistance and disruption as possible. Crucially, if implemented successfully, change management brings positive progress on an individual and collective level.

When it comes to workplace transformation, whether that be an office relocation, office refurbishment or office fit out, communication helps to build awareness about why change is happening, before supporting the change process and enabling the adoption and ongoing evaluation of the new workplace.

But what core principles lend themselves to effective communication?

1. Establish a clear understanding about why change is happening

Workplace change can happen for several reasons, and it’s first important to establish with clarity why change is happening. Then, you can start to build a story that articulates this effectively. It’s no surprise that McKinsey & Co found that business transformation is 5.8 times more likely to succeed at organisations where senior leaders communicate a compelling, high-level change story.

Tip: Consider the different drivers and motivators amongst your people. The story and narrative that you build around why your workplace transformation is taking place should connect and resonate with the range of personalities that make up your workforce. Create your own workplace ‘why’.

2. Commit to authenticity and transparency

Sometimes workplace change happens in challenging circumstances. Tough economic climates, a competitive recruitment landscape or emerging market competitors may prompt change. Honest, authentic communication demonstrates trust and respect for the intelligence of your people, and in turn is likely to build trust and respect. Research from PwC found that when engaging directly with stakeholders, it enhances trust, offers visibility and leads to better leadership accountability. Equally, transparency about the things you know, as well as what you don’t yet know, reassures teams that there are neither secrets nor surprises, and that they are joining you on the journey.

Tip: Place yourself in the mindset of the message recipient. What may they want to know beyond what you’ve already shared? What questions remain unanswered? How can you prepare responses to increase awareness or understanding?

3. Dedicate efforts to communication that is both inclusive and accessible

As individuals, we all consume messages in different ways. This varies depending on personal preference, but it is also influenced by neurotype. The different ways in which each of us process and interpret information can inform the format of communication, the tone in which it is delivered and the quantity in which it is repeated.

This way, communication about your workplace transformation is tailored to be understood by everyone. This demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity, but also ensures that the message is received as effectively as possible.

The physical and digital spaces within the world of work offer a plethora of methods and modes of communication on both an individual and group level. In fact, studies have shown that an individual needs to see a message around seven times before it sinks in. From visual to audio to written forms of information exchange, communication can even be transmitted directly between humans or between humans at either side of technological software.

Tip: Explore different formats of communication and ensure you’re considering accessibility when doing so. Offering choice and options for individuals to access key information after the initial delivery of the message means employees can reengage and reinforce understanding.

4. Time your timing

Timing is critical when it comes to the delivery of effective communication. Employee engagement specialists Davis & Company cite that employees not only care what leadership shares, but also when leadership disseminates information.

Appropriately timed communications help to bring your employees along on the journey in a logical way. Additionally, it can help to manage uncertainty, prevent confusion and even build excitement around workplace transformation. This not only applies to the time of day in which communications are delivered, but also the frequency of ongoing communications.

Starting the communications process too early, before a clear communication strategy is developed, can lead to more questions than answers. Equally, delaying communication too long, while you develop a perfect plan, can lead to inaccurate assumptions and unnecessary concern.

Tip: Create a communications strategy that sits alongside and in conjunction with your workplace project timeline so both pieces of work are mutually beneficial, and can take place seamlessly alongside one another.

5. Listen, learn, and listen again

Change is not a linear process, and managing workplace transformation will bring both successes and learnings. As discussed already, communication is defined as an exchange of information. That’s why the principle of active listening and learning plays one of the most important roles in enabling communication to support workplace change.

According to Gartner, 74% of leaders say they involved employees in creating a change strategy. Conversely, only 42% of employees feel included. Effective communication can help create a two-way dialogue to offer every employee a voice in contributing to and therefore delivering change.

Communication is not only about delivering information, but also about responding to information received. Throughout the change process, enabling and embracing feedback offers an opportunity to learn and enhance your change strategy. Responding to feedback gathered will ultimately help to deliver successful and long-lasting change.

Tip: Here, it’s not just about accepting that feedback is important to gather, but it’s also about considering how feedback will be responded to and implemented. Once received, remain open minded.

As everyone is unique and society continues to evolve, a formula for perfect communication will likely never exist. This means it’s a topic we can never flawlessly master. What we can do, however, is continue to learn, gather feedback, and evolve our approach.

Change in the workplace is often radical, complex and substantial. It’s not always easy to implement or adopt, either. Clear communication helps to unite your employees, leadership, and other stakeholders towards a common goal, aligning expectations and overcoming obstacles or barriers to change before they impact progress.

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