Communicating change is your top priority

Imagine that you are the CEO of a large company and you just found out that in order for your company to survive in this economy, you must cut an entire department of 450 employees in the next six months. How would you handle this situation? Would you wait until the very last moment to share this news with your employees, or would you immediately communicate the situation to them – even if you didn’t have all the answers?

Last week I attended the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) monthly luncheon at Maggianno’s in the Fashion Show Mall, and this scenario was part of the discussion. The topic of the luncheon was communicating change. Guest speaker, Adrian Cropley, ABC (shown left), is director and founder of Cropley Communication, a consulting firm that focuses on change communication based in Melbourne, Australia.

I always take away a few nuggets of wisdom at every IABC event, but this is the most widely relevant topic because everyone seems to be going through some kind of change right now. Some organizations have had to downsize their companies substantially as a result of tough economic times in the last year, others are facing consolidation of resources in order to continue to compete in their industry, and still others are considering a change of office space to save money on long-term overhead costs. The point is, not all change is necessarily bad, but it’s human nature to fear the unknown, which is why communicating well during times of change is not only necessary but should be a top priority.

Here are a few of the lessons we can all take away from Adrian’s presentation:

  • Change management is better defined as “change communication” because you can’t manage change, but you do have the power and ability to communicate what is happening to your audiences, both internally and externally.
  • If employees feel engaged by leaders in times of change, they are more likely to understand, empathize and be less resistant.
  • The earlier leaders of an organization can bring in their communication team to begin preparing a communication plan during times of change, the better.
  • Organizations that handle change well deal openly with employees resistant to change.
  • The focus of change communication should not be on controlling the reaction to the change but rather the timeliness of the message to employees and stakeholders.
  • Change is not a step-by-step process; it’s about human emotion.
  • The key to an effective change communication strategy is educating your employees with the information you do have even if you don’t have all the information or ultimately know what the outcome will be.

So how did the company that was faced with cutting over 450 jobs deal with its change? It did the best way it could by educating quickly and communicating honestly with its employees. Because of this strategy, all employees returned to their offices the next day and most of them worked through the end of their contracts. With that, I leave you with two questions: What change is happening in your organization right now? Are you effectively communicating this change to your employees and key stakeholders?

Megan Lane serves as an Account Executive for Imagine Marketing.
Contact Megan at

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