Changes coming soon? What to discuss with Staff.

05 March 2019

Here are a 5 key messages and a few guidelines we believe may greatly help approach open-ended or face-to-face discussions with confidence and determination.

author picture Article written by Vincent PIEDBOEUF

Being faced with a barrage of questions from anxious and defensive employees is certainly not a pleasant experience. Nor will letting things spin out of control under the highly misleading claim that change is not something to be discussed, only enforced. Resistance is the byproduct of a lack of awareness among employees[1]. Our partner PROSCI has collected most frequently asked questions and concerns and how to properly address them. Preparation is key. Here are a 5 key messages and a few guidelines we believe may greatly help approach open-ended or face-to-face discussions with confidence and determination.

Business reasons or the “why” WE change.

“Why is change happening now”, “what if we don’t change” and “what the rush” are just a few questions that fall under the heading of “business reasons”. Dialogue is key in mitigating the effects that a sudden sense of urgency may trigger. The effects of external drivers for change (loss of market share, new competing offers, new business opportunities) only become visible throughout the organisation after a certain time interval. By that time, managers realise the risks associated with not changing (worst case scenarios being job and revenue losses) but employees may be caught off guard. Some people will even be tempted to wait for the “storm to move away”, as if change was started out on a whim. Raising awareness about the underlying reasons for change is thus half the battle.

Personal reasons or “why” YOU should want to participate.

People think critically, grappling with dilemmas presented when a sudden change happens. It is only natural to unearth past failures (“we did that before, and we failed”) and consider options. “What are the benefits of supporting the change” and conversely, “what if I disagree”, are recurring questions. Some people might strongly disagree if there are grounds for reasonable doubts about the strategy underlying the change. They should be encouraged to state their case adequately. Examples of successful changes undertaken elsewhere greatly help visualise positive outcomes and create drive. For the rest, try to highlight in very practical terms what supporting the change can bring along: opportunities to grow, greater job security, satisfaction and reputation, …. It all comes down to building a desire to take an active part in the change and help people to understand “what’s in there for them”.

Personal Impact or “how” is change going to change YOU and YOUR work.

One change might impact people in very different ways depending on their position, personal skill set … and on the magnitude of the change itself. A given initiative may imply behavioural change, fresh roles, new performance metrics in addition to or alongside new products, tools or systems, working routines, brand new markets or geographical location. But the takeaway message is that the “impact of the change is also directly related to how people react to the change”. As a consequence, raising an employee’s self-awareness regarding his/her reaction is absolutely crucial to help him/her ease into the change.

Roll out or “how” is change going to happen.

This means discussing everything from the people responsible for deployment and leaders of the change, to the location and date of implementation, timeline, deadline for adoption and go-live date. While the project unfolds, you will have to update the staff on current status, progress and next milestones…. Celebrating short-term successes is also an integral part of the communication effort. So, map out the change in very concrete terms and keep the next steps top of mind.

“What” does the change entail.

Not that what seems to be the most obvious part of communicating the change should come last, but it cannot hide the real priority: making sure that people have a clear understanding of why the change happens and why it has to happen now. As to “what” the change entails, highlight the scope of the transformation, the challenges (and again, objectives!) attached to it, all new processes and activities it generates, what the future will look like and how it differs from the current state… As counterintuitive as it may seem, it is crucial to emphasise what will NOT change and repeat that not everything is predictable, hence the difficulty to have all the answers.


[1] Creasy, T. (PROSCI Blog) 10 Questions employees will have about any Change.

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