Implementing change can be a difficult process opposed by employees at any level. How to announce a coming change? How to implement it? How to involve employees and encourage efficient change? As it turns out, internal communication is the decisive factor. More importantly, an open dialogue helps employees accept change in a positive manner.
Change management is often seen as a question of leadership, but rarely as a matter of internal communication. "However we observed that communication plays a crucial role in successfully integrating changes." says Mark Esposito, a Grenoble Ecole de Management professor who published a study on the subject after having observed a sample of 45 people at three companies with branches in Brazil.
When implementing an internal change, many leaders prefer a downward communication style that sends a clear but unidirectional message. Unfortunately such a message can lead to strong resistance at any level of the company. "In some cases, top-level managers will express opposition which can slow down and even sabotage a strategy. In other cases, a direct top-down message can cause absenteeism among employees across the board and even end with unsatisfied workers leaving the company." explains Mark Esposito. In either case, a company will have to deal with serious difficulties.
Dialogue for change: a two-way street
Overcoming these dangers requires leaders to create an open dialogue. This allows each employee to be a part of the change. "Opening the channels of communication means not only consulting with top-level managers before taking strategic decisions, but also involving lower-level employees in the project." highlights Mark Esposito. Creating a real dialogue implies that a company is transparent about its motivations and explains the reasons for a change. "As a result, employees no longer simply endure change, instead their concerns are addressed and they are involved in the company's vision." While there may always be some resistance to change, the overall negative impact can be greatly reduced by such open communication.
In concrete terms, such an approach means throwing out the standardized message and adapting communication to each department, team and individual. "Horizontal dialogue is essential. Each department and team needs a message that answers their specific needs." adds Mark Esposito.
The choice of words and the manner in which a project is presented is also a key factor to ensure that a change does not appear too brutal. Mark Esposito concludes: "Two factors have a determining impact on employee reactions to change. The first issue to consider is how far in advance the change has been announced. The second is to find an appropriate way to present the change. Companies are most successful at adapting to change when such projects are seen as an inherent part of company development. With open communication, change is no longer a destabilizing factor and employees see it as a normal part of company growth."