How to Get Your Employees on Board with Change

First published by Training Magazine:

8 must-haves for your change communication program to evolve employee perceptions.

Jessica Walter, MS, APR, Account Strategist, Internal Communication, JPL

One of the most significant causes of stress for leadership during any significant organizational change is maintaining the confidence and positivity of employees.

Mergers, acquisitions, shifts in leadership, relocation—you name it, no matter the hours and time spent on the change itself, a good leader will sweat over his or her employees and how they are coping with the transition. And with good reason.

Resistance to change is real and human. So as leaders, we have to expect this from our employees, too. However, there are secrets to helping your team overcome this resistance and build support, many of which lie in the science of the brain.

Anxiety is a resulting symptom of the discomfort your employees can feel when faced with change. And this anxiety or fear can produce resistance. Here are the elements of a change communication program that will shift the employee mindset from anxiety to buy-in:

Be you and be authentic. Leaders who are true to themselves and show compassion are more trustworthy. Even when the message is challenging, telling the truth shows courage and integrity, and thus boosts employee confidence. During transition, employees look to leaders at all organizational levels to model the behavior needed for successful change.

Convey your vision. Change is a commitment of emotional and behavioral time and energy. Employees need to believe it’s worth the effort. They want to know “what is in this for me?” or “how is this going to affect me?” Maintaining a compelling vision can illustrate the positives of change or spur the support needed to drive the move forward.

When Alan Mulally became CEO of Ford in 2006, many expected the company was on a trajectory toward bankruptcy. Instead, he created a vision that resonated with employees, enabling him to choreograph a turnaround. His commitment to creating this vision was the core of the company’s revitalization.

Foster collaboration. Leadership that listens, understands, and includes team members in a decision creates a sense of shared ownership and motivation.

When CEO Satya Nadella joined Microsoft in 2014, the company’s growth was stunted and it wasn’t keeping up with the demands of younger users. Nadella has successfully transitioned the company by leveraging the combined insight of the entire team, helping him to win the confidence of employees, as well as the market.

Providing ample avenues to voice concerns or questions supports a reduction in anxiety and feelings of being in the dark.

Communicate simply and consistently. Complex, lengthy, and vague communications about a change cause employees to feel at risk and confused. Simple messages work best to improve comprehension.

Changing mindsets requires consistent reinforcement, no matter the communication vehicle. Messages must be consistent, and the company’s subsequent actions must be aligned and reinforce the message to gain employee buy-in.

Bottom line: Communicate in clear, straightforward terms, then do what you say you are going to do.

Don’t forget a key stakeholder: you. Being a leader during a serious transition means leading others through the change while also adapting yourself. Leaders underestimate the toll this can take. An essential component of a successful transition is to make time to eat, sleep, exercise, and reflect. The human brain and body require these in order to sustain peak performance and operate at your fullest potential as a leader.

Be hyper-focused on timing and delivery. When it comes time to deliver important news, never underestimate the critical nature of timing and preparation. Plan which employee groups will receive information at what times, and ensure they get the message from the proper source. This type of calculated, cohesive communication from official sources helps employees feel included and respected, and they then have a higher propensity to support the initiative.

Understanding the brain’s response to change can equip leaders to approach change communication in a way that will foster greater acceptance and adoption of the new initiative. This, in turn, can cultivate deeper employee engagement toward better supporting the organization’s business goals.

Jessica Walter, MS, APR, is a certified professional leadership coach, and an account strategist for internal communication for JPL, one of Pennsylvania’s largest full-service, integrated marketing agencies helping clients elevate their performance through branding, culture and employee engagement through internal communication. She oversees research, strategy and communication engagements that drive business results.


Published by Jessica Walter, MS, APR

Speaker, Consultant, and Certified Leadership Coach

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