Implementing change in a small business is frequently challenging, and employee resistance can play a big part in slowing things down, reducing the effectiveness of the change process, and impeding the desired outcome.
Effective communication throughout the process can help enormously to reduce the likelihood of resistance, and to accelerate change in a positive way.
How does good communication help during change?
Here are the two key ways effective communication can support change in your business:
If employees are fully informed about the reasons for the change, and have the benefits clearly identified and explained to them, their buy-in is much easier to achieve.
Employees who are being communicated with well (including being consulted with) are more likely to feel they are involved in the change rather than it being imposed upon them, and people who are involved in something, and feel they can have an influence on it, are more invested in its success.
Gaps in knowledge tend to be filled with gossip, and foster suspicion about a business’s motives or intentions. If employees feel you aren’t being open with them about what you’re doing and why, they are less likely to trust the answers you give to their concerns, and are less likely to embrace the changes you want.
Investing some time and effort in good communication can really smooth the way and encourage people to follow you wholeheartedly and supportively into the change you want to make.
How to ensure effective communication during change
Identify concerns and objections early
This can be prior to the change starting – if you can already identify what the possible roadblocks or issues are likely to be among various groups of people, you can shape your communications so that those concerns are addressed upfront, and reassurance given before it is even needed.
To the extent you can’t predict every reaction or problem, consultation at an early stage will help fill those gaps.
Realise that different groups need different communications
Even in a small business, there will be several different groups you need to communicate with about the change. Managers will need different communications to employees, as their roles and responsibilities and levels of information needed will vary.
You might also communicate differently to the organisation as a whole as compared to a team that is directly affected by the change.
Listen to objections and concerns genuinely
Consultation is all very well, but if employees feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears, resistance to the change will develop quickly. It can be frustrating having a change you’re committed to criticised and impeded, and many business owners can feel staff are throwing up roadblocks unjustifiably, or out of principle.
But listen carefully and take comments into account genuinely. Take time to consider what could be done to adjust the change or address concerns, and feed all that back, so that even if nothing can be done, your concerned team members understand why, and feel they have been heard.
Consider key messages
Work out in advance exactly what needs to be communicated and when – that will help you make sure nothing is missed, and that everything happens at the correct time.
You might need to adjust this as you go, if you find questions or concerns raised mean that information needs to be communicated earlier than planned.
Use different methods
Consider your workforce and use a variety of communication methods to ensure no one is missed and everyone is engaged in a way that works for them. Some of it might need to be formal individual letters, but a lot of it can be done in other ways, such as group meetings, drop ins, online messaging, email, posters, and videos.
Don’t forget people who are absent on family leave or sick leave, ensure they are involved and communicated with appropriately too.
A classic mistake many business owners make is to do a big communication at the start, preparing letters and announcements, and then go quiet.
Whilst a process in a small business would hopefully not take long enough to need multiple ongoing communications for a long period, a regular drip, particularly when it comes to any updates on delays, changes to process, or looking into issues raised, can go a long way towards maintaining early engagement and avoiding vital buy-in going off a cliff.
If you’d like some help with communication during a change process in your business, do get in touch.