Developing change communication programs that boost employee buy-in

Implementing organizational change of any magnitude requires a considerable amount of your leader’s time, energy and mental stamina. But what part of a change initiative causes the most stress for leaders?

Getting employees to support the transition.

Encountering resistance to change is deeply dreaded by most business leaders, but the secret to overcoming objections and building employee support lies in understanding how the brain responds to change.

The discomfort people experience when faced with change is typically a result of anxiety. This uncertainty and fear can produce strong resistance. To help employees embrace the change, leaders can use these fundamental elements of successful change implementation.

Vision. Buying in to a new direction requires both behavioral and emotional commitment, so employees need to believe it is worth the energy. A compelling vision that illustrates the benefits of completing the transition can create a sense of urgency and ignite the drive needed to move forward.

Authenticity. When leaders are honest, true to themselves, and show their human side, employees are more likely to trust them. Even if the details are unpleasant, telling the truth will boost employees’ confidence because it demonstrates integrity and courage. Especially during times of change, employees will look to leaders at all levels of the organization to model the behavior and attitudes needed to make the change successful.

Listening. We live in an era where collaboration with employees is a benchmark of a successful organization. Employees expect to have ample opportunities to voice their concerns and questions. When leaders understand, include and listen to them, employees feel a greater sense of shared ownership. This can significantly reduce their levels of anxiety and resistance.

Anticipation. It is important to anticipate employees’ concerns and address them proactively. This helps to alleviate fear and boost cooperation because it shows that leaders recognize the impact the change will have on the team. It is also beneficial for leaders to understand the phases employees will experience prior to adopting the change so that they can tailor their messages to reflect what employees need at each stage. These stages can include denial, anger and exploration before reaching acceptance.

Simplicity. When people feel they are at risk, their brains do not process large amounts of information efficiently. When leaders communicate about a change that may leave employees feeling concerned or uncertain, simple messages work best because they improve clarity and comprehension.

Consistency. Changing mindsets and behaviors requires consistent and reliable reinforcement. This means that systems, processes, communication and performance measurements throughout the organization must be congruent with the change employees are being asked to support.

Timing. Never underestimate the importance of speed and planning when it’s time to deliver important news. Know which employee groups will receive information at what times and ensure that they get the message from the proper source. When employees learn about major changes from official sources, they are more likely to feel included and respected, and therefore more likely to support the initiative.

Self-awareness. This essential component of successful transitions often gets overlooked. Being a leader during transformation means changing an organization while also adapting to the changes yourself. Most leaders underestimate the toll it will take. Make time to eat, sleep, exercise and reflect. The human body and brain require all of these in order sustain peak performance.

With a greater understanding of how the brain triggers automatic responses to change, leaders can approach change communication in a way that will foster adoption of the new initiative and cultivate deeper employee engagement.