Blue Beyond Consulting

9 Leadership Practices for Communicating Change

Change sparks questions — and as a leader, people are looking to you for answers. When communicating with your team during a major change or business transformation, it’s important to communicate with clarity and empathy to build understanding and commitment. You may need to adjust your typical communication approach to support your team — and may find yourself having to respond to tough questions and negative reactions. Above all, you’ll need to create a climate of trust and safety that supports your team in becoming active change agents.

If you’d like to integrate more thoughtful communications strategies into your change process, look no further than our guide.

What Is Change Management Communication?

Change management communication involves the communications strategies, alignment, messaging, and day-to-day conversations that support organizational transformations before, during, and after the transition. It encapsulates both “big C” and “little C” communications — the former referring to your larger communications plan and the latter referring to the informal, everyday discussions between your people related to the change.

At Blue Beyond, we understand change management communications through what we call Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™. This people-first approach places audiences at the center of the change experience with messages that are thoughtfully crafted to connect the dots (human), inspire and call to action (compelling), and bring to life (visual).

Any change comes with disruptors, and effective change communications seek to reduce any potential risks by equipping leaders to clearly share their future vision, galvanize their employees through the change process, and deliver a consistent and engaging message for a variety of stakeholders with different needs and levels of engagement.

A graphic that visualizes personas icon cartoon performing different activities

Kickstart your Change Management Communications Plan Today

Download Our Starter Kit To Begin Now

The Role of Communication in the Change Process

Communication connects employees to an organization’s leadership and vision. It’s how they experience your culture, build trust with leaders, and receive direction and purpose in their work. 

One could rightly argue that the success of any widescale change effort is intrinsically tied to the efficacy of its communications. If internal communications are how your people perceive your organization, then so too are communications how employees will understand business transformations. 

Read how our change communications work with a multi-billion dollar technology company brought siloed teams together in the face of both internal and external change factors.

9 Essential Change Communications Practices

Organizations don’t change — people do. When creating a change management communications plan, make sure you’re considering how the plan will motivate, engage, and equip your people to navigate change more smoothly. 

Here are the top practices we recommend to better communicate change to employees:

1. Begin with Empathy

Developing communications that inspire people to change begins with putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about what matters to them and what concerns they might have. Putting people at the center will help you be more intentional in both what and how to successfully communicate with them.

2. Develop a Compelling Why

When leading your team through change, it’s important to craft an authentic and powerful statement that communicates why the change is necessary. When people understand both the emotions and logic of the change (versus just “what’s in it for them”), they are much more likely to join the change effort.

3. Make Space

People need to let go of old, familiar ways before they can adopt new ones. Be crystal clear about what’s changing and when, and then give people time and space to adapt.

4. Show and Tell

Your behavior is a form of communication, and actions speak louder than words, so be careful that your actions and words line up. When they do — you build trust. When they don’t — trust erodes.

5. Encourage Dialogue

Effective communication is two-way, and lasting change happens with people, not to them. When your team feels involved in the change process, they’re more likely to engage with it. Make sure your communications plan leaves room for people to give input, surface questions, and share feedback to include in your plan.

Solicit feedback, whether you’re communicating live or virtually. Ask good questions and pay attention to not only what people are saying, but to nonverbal cues as well, to get the full message.

6. Build Engagement Through Accomplishment

Set intermediate goals to help you achieve the larger change and to build momentum and progress. Listen and coach the team to help them create solutions that they own and to find personal “whys” to support the change. As the team adjusts to the new way of working, show appreciation and share positive feedback.

7. Actively Manage Yourself

Leaders are people too, and need to process change just like everyone else! Make time and space to work through your own emotions, and be honest with yourself about your current mental state.

8. Be Proactive, Transparent, and Clear

When there is a lack of information, it’s human nature for people to make assumptions. Get in front of that by sharing as much as you can, as soon as you can. Sometimes, this means communicating “we don’t know yet,” but your authenticity and commitment to finding an answer will go a long way.

9. Include a Call to Action or Next Step

Information is great, but what is the behavior you’re trying to drive among your team? People support what they helped to build, so think about tangible ways each person can contribute to the change effort.

A graphic that visualizes personas icon cartoon performing different activities

Kickstart your Change Management Communications Plan Today

Download Our Starter Kit To Begin Now

Challenges with Communication During Change

No change comes without its challenges, and that holds true when standing up communications that support your change initiatives. Watch out for these common pitfalls.

Communications and Change Fatigue

Change is all about people, and the reality is that people can only take so much change at once before fatigue, resignation, and resistance set in. And with many knowledge workers already experiencing information overload with their current frequency of communications, bandwidth for additional emails, meetings, and updates is a limited resource.

Effective communications work within the parameters of change and communication fatigue by relaying information in formats that are simple to access, understand, and act upon. Before you hit send, think about the core message you want to convey and whether your audience will walk away with the level of understanding necessary.

Insufficient Stakeholder Alignment

Communications are heard best when they are amplified consistently. It’s easy to assume that leadership and key stakeholders will impart the same messaging as the change takes effect, but without a plan in place, you may find stakeholders telling their own side of your change story. 

Ensuring leadership alignment before you start the process will not only yield clearer communications but will also help you remain cost- and time-efficient. 

Change Is Hard To Imagine — and Therefore Hard To Communicate

The impact of change at work can be immediate and clearly felt, but articulating how the change looks — and how your organization will move through it — often slips into abstraction. Successful communications should make the obscure clear, giving people time to understand and begin processing the change before it’s fully enacted.

In our work over the last two decades with our clients, we’ve refined how we craft communications that resonate with their audiences and yield lasting results — what we call Human, Compelling, Visual Communications™. 

By communicating change in a format that is visible and visual, you’ll find that your team can remember and follow your change roadmap more easily and quickly. Moving your change from idea to action requires visual communications that illustrate the who, what, where, when, and why behind the change. Why are we changing, and why now? What will the change look like, and who will be affected? How does our change vision bring us closer to the future? 

Take a look at this example of one of our Vision Maps, which is the output of several conversations with leaders and stakeholders. The map envisions a future state of a broad-scale change and illustrates the goals and journey along the way. 

A vision map from Blue Beyond that outlines the organization’s change journey from start to finish, which is visualized as a road that goes through a forest and toward a brighter future

Create a Smooth Change Experience for Your Business and Your People with the Organizational Experts

Organizational transformations that last are those that factor their people into the change equation, and communications are perhaps the most powerful tool at leaders’ disposal to inspire their people toward action.

Need support with leading change? Learn more about our approach to change management.

A graphic that visualizes personas icon cartoon performing different activities

Kickstart your Change Management Communications Plan Today

Download Our Starter Kit To Begin Now