Change Communication: The Importance of Agency

If the last year or so has taught us anything, it’s that any change suddenly imposed upon us can be hugely destabilising. The recent economic uncertainty, social restrictions and seismic shift in the way we live have all prompted record levels of anxiety, and much of that stems from people feeling that they’re no longer in control of their own lives. Deciding to make changes for yourself is one thing but having changes forced upon you is a whole different ball game.

It’s the same in business. That new transformation programme you’re so excited about could have the polar opposite effect on your teams. As consultants, it’s a response we often see during the initial stages when helping organisations implement change. Instead of employees embracing your best laid plans with open arms, they experience feelings of fear, insecurity and resistance – all natural human reactions to a departure from the norm

The solution lies in the way you communicate change to those affected by it. For people to get on board with your plans, it’s critical to make them feel like they are an integral part of the process and have a degree of agency over what’s happening. And the best way to do that is to get your change communication strategy right from the start.

What you say and how you say it will make or break your chances of success. It’s critical to adopt a messaging strategy that engages and empowers people across the board, whether you’re communicating with employees, customers, partners or suppliers. Clarity, consistency, authenticity and adopting a tailored approach to information delivery that aligns with groups and individuals’ needs go a long way in ensuring that your messaging is both effective and positively received.

Of course, a good communication strategy isn’t all about outward messaging, it’s a two-way conversation. As well as supplying the right information, in the right way, at the right time, it’s also important to encourage feedback and listen. Create a culture where people feel comfortable enough to express themselves and are assured that you will consider ideas, answer questions honestly and address concerns constructively. This approach also allows you to identify skills gaps and implement appropriate training programmes, which in turn will make people feel more empowered and prepared for the changes to come.

Engaging in honest dialogue enables those affected by change to be, and perhaps more importantly, feel that they have an influence on planning and implementation. Be inclusive and show your teams that they are the change-makers rather than passive pawns in your grand plans, and you’ll increase your chances of implementing successful, sustainable change exponentially.

Every business’s success is driven by the quality of the relationships it builds, and relationships thrive on open, honest, clear communication – especially during times of upheaval. Managed poorly, your change communications may create distrust, fuel speculation, promote resistance and make people feel disempowered. Managed artfully, your messaging will create a more productive, engaged, motivated and hopeful mindset across all levels of your business.

As a consultancy collective, we have years of experience in advising clients across multiple sectors on the implementation of successful change. If you’re planning a business transformation and need expert help with your communication strategy, talk to us.

Emma Sleightholm