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How to Prepare Managers to Communicate Change

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Alison Davis  – Founder and CEO of Davis & Company. Her opinions are her own. 

Just when you think everything is routinely humming along, here comes another change. Maybe your company is acquiring a smaller firm. Or senior managers have decided to restructure the organization. Or employees are moving to a new office location. Or it’s time to introduce a new IT system or business process.

Whatever the nature of the disruption, there’s one strategy for communicating change to employees that you definitely want to include in your internal communication plan.

That element? Giving managers what they need to communicate change to their team members.

After all, when it comes to most issues—and especially when change is involved—employees are inclined to look to their managers for answers when they need to take action or make a decision. And if you make it easy for managers to do what you want them to do, you increase the likelihood that they will do the right thing.

Employees don’t want managers to stand up and present a complicated PowerPoint about the change. (That’s lucky, because most managers would rather get a root canal than do that.) What employees do want is for managers to provide useful, just-in-time information, usually in the form of answers to questions.

Your role as communicator is to keep managers in the loop, so they’re ready to share information and respond to employees. Here are three ways to help managers succeed in this important communication role when it comes to change management:

1. Brief managers before the rest of the organization

When you’re rolling out a new program, prepare managers first.

They’ll have the inside scoop and feel knowledgeable enough to answer questions. If the topic is complex and the change is significant, invite managers to participate in a face-to-face session. Or, if time is short and managers work at multiple locations, host a web-based briefing. Whichever format you choose, make sure the session offers managers a chance to ask questions and interact with leaders.

2. Develop a toolkit

Now that you’ve given managers a thorough understanding of what’s changing, provide them with communication tools, conveniently packaged in an electronic download or posted on the intranet. Include the following components:

  • An elevator speech: a short summary (two to three sentences) used to quickly and simply explain what the change is, why it’s happening and what it means for employees.
  • Talking points: short, conversational scripts used to explain specific parts of a change in greater detail.
  • Suggested methods and techniques for communicating change. Managers will naturally think about communicating during meetings, but you can suggest other methods for how managers can communicate change. For example, if your organization has an internal social networking platform, suggest managers answer questions on that forum.
  • Clarification about the manager’s role in communicating change to staff members.
  • Visuals to illustrate a process or system change. Create a visual map of all the steps (and who is responsible for each) to help managers understand what’s changing. (Or, if the organizational structure is changing, include an org. chart.)
  • Frequently asked questions (and answers) are so important to managers that if you can’t do anything else, make sure you create FAQs. See #3 for more on this extremely useful tool.
  • A one-page overview about the change for managers to share with team members.
  • A feedback form—or link to an online survey—to measure the usefulness of the toolkit.

3. Provide FAQs

Although you may think Frequently Asked Questions are an old-fashioned communication method, my firm’s extensive research with managers has found that FAQs are their favorite tool. That’s because FAQs help managers predict the tough questions employees are likely to ask, while giving them the information they need to respond knowledgeably and honestly. This sets up managers to be the first source employees go to for information.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when creating manager-friendly FAQs:

  • Ask real questions that employees will ask, testing your FAQs with managers first before you finalize them.
  • Get rid of corporate speak and jargon. Instead, write the way people talk. The best FAQs sound like a real person (a smart one) who anticipates and answers all your questions. The worst FAQs sound like a Dilbert cartoon: great to make fun of, but not helpful.
  • Treat FAQs as a process, not a product. Of course you’d like to respond to as many pertinent questions as possible right from the beginning. But you probably won’t have answers for everything. So create a process for a) asking for additional questions and b) continually updating FAQs throughout the change process.

Here are five questions to think about when drafting your FAQs for an upcoming initiative or change:

  • What is the change and why is it important?
  • When will it occur?
  • Who will be impacted?
  • What do I need to do differently?
  • Where can I go to ask questions or get more info?

 How can you this advice into practice? Here are two examples of how organizations set managers up for success:

  • The five-minute manager: One multinational organization set up a program to send all managers a weekly email with a maximum of five minutes’ worth of information for a manager to share in any weekly staff meeting. By providing brief, highlighted information, the communication team made it easy for managers to include communication in their regular interactions with team members.
  • Support for a new compensation plan: A pharmaceutical company revamped its variable pay plans to create a single global program for managers called the Long-Term Incentive Plan. The challenge was to introduce this program so that managers themselves would understand the changes and be prepared to answer questions from employees. The HR team created an informative piece highlighting the components of the plan, and invited managers to web-based meetings that focused on complex plan components such as restricted stock units and performance share units. The meetings were designed to present information, but a considerable amount of time was allocated for Q&A.

Questions asked by managers during the sessions were collected, and at the end of all sessions, an FAQ document was created and distributed for managers to use with their employees.

As a result, 95 percent of managers attending the web meetings said they understood the new incentive plan.

Are you ready to help managers communicate change? Provide them with the information and tools they need to be knowledgeable and prepared.

Alison Davis

Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communications firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestlé, Roche and Rogers Communications – increase employee engagement.

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