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Any organizational change inspires questions—lots of questions: Will we change our structure? Who will I report to? Will I still have a job? How does this impact me?

Questions are powerful because they’re the way employees learn about change. The answers they get will start the process of building knowledge and commitment.

Enter leaders. They are in a unique position to build trust, encourage engagement, and provide clarity. And they have a key role to play: answering employees’ questions—often before they’re asked.

Here’s why leader communication should be a top priority when communicating change

  • Leader visibility = Trust. When employees see leaders in front of change (rather than hiding in the wings), it demonstrates leaders’ commitment to change and strengthens employee engagement.
  • Employee participation = Engagement. As champions or advocates of change, leaders can invite employees to be part of the change: playing a role in the planning process, defining how the change will work, and providing feedback on the change process. Employee participation builds a greater commitment to change.
  • Consistent messages = Clarity. If leaders agree on what’s required and speak the same language, employees develop a clearer picture of why the change is happening and their role in making it successful. By taking the time to talk about the change, leaders reinforce that it’s important for the organization.

3 Strategies to Ensure Your Leaders Communicate Effectively

Leveraging leaders as a communication channel will ensure employees get their questions answers and help change stick.  Follow these strategies so communication comes naturally to leaders:

1. Prepare Leaders to Communicate Change

Set leaders up to communicate change successfully by:

  • Getting them on board. Provide the space for leader communication to build knowledge of the change and decipher how it will impact their teams. A full-day collaborative workshop with the CEO ensures agreement about the change and the plan to implement it.
  • Defining their role. Setting clear expectations for leaders makes it easy for them to follow through. For example, create a one-page overview that summarizes key messages they need to share and clearly identifies the support needed—whether it’s hosting one virtual meeting a quarter or writing a biweekly microblog.

  • Developing a change communication toolkit. Once leaders understand their role, they need resources to help them deliver. Try a communication toolkit, including talking points and frequently asked questions, to ensure they’re answering questions consistently. This toolkit can also include tips for communicating change.

2. Create Channels for Leaders

Now that leaders are ready for their communication role, create channels to help them be visible, and answer questions. It’s important that leader communication is a mix of two-way (appropriate for discussion) and awareness tools (when employees just need an update).

Two-way channels Engagement sessions – You have two options here: 1) Get employees involved before the change is “public knowledge.” Use these small-group forums to involve employees in the change-planning process. This early involvement will not only give insight into what employees want and need but will also increase employee buy-in during implementation. 2) After the change is announced, ask for employees’ input as change plans are shaped. Their involvement will encourage ownership and commitment.
Discussion threads – During change, set up a discussion board to foster an open dialogue between employees and leaders. These informal threads are a great place for employees to post questions as they come up—rather than waiting for the next town hall or small group meeting.
Coffee chats –These informal, small meetings give employees a chance to have a meaningful conversation with leaders in a relaxed setting.
Web-based meetings Hosting regular web updates during change is a good way to engage all employees as the change is happening. They should not just be one-way discussions but include interactive techniques, such as text-polling, white-boarding or a live chat, so employees can share their thoughts and provide input.
Awareness channels Microblogs – Microblogs (short, 50- to 100-word posts) give employees information straight from leaders with less formality than a company-wide email. Microblogs should be timely, address specific aspects of change as they happen and give employees a clear call to action. 
Video updates – Have leader’s record short, two-minute videos throughout the change process to give employees an idea of what’s been done so far and what’s to come.

 3. Understand the Effectiveness of Leaders’ Role

Gather data about leaders as they communicate. The info can help you make adjustments to your communication—from increasing visibility to focusing on hot topics. Try pulse surveys after key events, such as a town hall. And collect the questions asked during face-to-face sessions or on microblogs to assess knowledge of the change among employees.  

Written By
Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche and Rogers Communications – increase employee engagement. Alison sets the strategic direction for the firm, consults with the client on their toughest communication challenges and leads the development of new products and services.

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