Tag Archives: change comms

The emotional rollercoaster of change in internal comms

Whether it’s mild skepticism or all out panic, reactions to change vary greatly.

A common factor in change, however, is resistance.

Change leads us into unknown territory, which represents risk.

Familiarising ourselves with new things also requires effort.

In environments where time is at a premium, such as the modern workplace, this is an instant turn-off.

This presents a conundrum for internal communication professionals. We know it’s not an option to never refresh our platforms.

But we also know that changes such as relaunching a magazine, updating an app or altering a meeting schedule can create the kind of negative vibes that are toxic to engagement.

If you’re thinking of changing one of your main IC tools, take a moment to consider Elisabeth Kübler-Ross; the psychiatrist who created the eponymous model of grief management.

The Kübler-Ross change curve was originally intended to postulate the emotions of people who are experiencing genuine emotional trauma. Over the years however, it has also been applied to change management in the business world.

Could it also be applied to internal communication?

The popular perception of this model – that people move from emotion to the next in a timely sequence – isn’t quite right.

But what Kübler-Ross intended was to identify the key feelings associated with grief and how these affect people’s wellbeing. In the business world, we simply swap ‘wellbeing’ for ‘morale’ or ‘performance level’.

By empathising with audiences and taking proactive measures based on people’s likely emotional states, IC professionals will be in a strong position to ensure changes go smoothly.

Strategies for change management: guiding people towards acceptance and integration

Shock = Alignment
Engage with audiences at the first opportunity to inform them about the change, discuss why it’s necessary. Tailor the tone, language and delivery method of your messages to employee preferences.

Denial = Inspiration
Explain what the positive outcomes will be. Align business benefits with personal benefits so people will want the change to succeed. Make it clear that the change is happening, but be careful not to sound too authoritarian.

Anger = Maximise communication
When people are angry or frustrated, they need to be listened to. Provide maximum opportunities for communication between employees and key stakeholders for the change (sponsors, decision-makers, deliverers, etc).

Depression = Motivate
Understanding the reasons why people might be uncomfortable with change. Why might they be wary of a new-look magazine, or reluctant to try an app’s new functionality? Share stories about colleagues (or employees from other businesses if necessary) who had similar feelings but now love the new version.

Above all, strike a positive ‘can do’ tone in your messaging. Let people know that this is a change for you too, and lead by example.

Get the word out first – communication during change is crucial to engagement

An IC faux pas by French car manufacturer PSA Group led to a communications backlash following their £1.9 billion purchase of General Motors’ European unit, which includes Vauxhall.

News of the deal broke in the press before it was officially announced to thousands of employees at Vauxhall’s factories in Luton and Ellesmere Port, raising questions over job security and pensions. In the confusion and worry that followed, some people even vented to the media.

“Everybody is in the dark at the moment. We just don’t know what will happen,” one worker told the BBC. “Is the pension we’ve all been paying into for years going to be protected?” asked another.

Et violà – Vauxhall (and PSA) found itself with a significant PR issue and a major blow to employee engagement, all because it had not communicated news of a major change to its workforce early enough.

So how could this situation have been prevented?

Research by the CIPD – the professional body for HR and people development – has identified some techniques common to organisations that successfully land transformational change.

These include:

• Mass engagement events – Events involving every person in the organisation are costly, challenging to organise and require senior managers to front them. However, staff participating in the CIPD research commented on the effectiveness of such events.

• Achieving clarity through brevity and translation through detail – Much is written about how change visions must be simple and memorable. However, it is increasingly recognised that the most important part of a vision statement is a shared understanding of what the words mean for the organisation, and that they translate into something tangible.

• Repeated consistent communication from the top – Consistent and continued endorsement from the top during programmes of change helps maintain momentum.

In Vauxhall’s case, many of these techniques were used (including a live presentation by senior leaders to employees in Luton), but only after the story broke. Whether things would have played out differently had they been used earlier is open for debate. Every situation is different, after all.

Nevertheless, it’s clear that an absence of communication during a period of change allows anxiety and speculation to take hold, which can harm engagement and cause resistance.

A spokesperson for Vauxhall told Headlines: “Like most organisations, telling employees first, before they read it in the media, is a key strategic objective. However, in this case, the talks were at an advanced stage when the story broke and so we had a rapid period of ‘catching up’ to do.

“We will continue to provide written information to employees and use our internal social networking site, a forthcoming webchat and face-to-face employee meetings to provide opportunities for two-way dialogue, to ensure employees feel as informed as possible and confident about the future.”