11 Tips to Communicate Change to a Concerned Workforce

In business, and in life, change is constant. For many businesses, the coronavirus pandemic caused massive disruption to the way their business was conducted. The choices were to evolve or die. Other businesses saw the demand for their products and services surge and the pace in which they had to adapt was swift.

For employees, rapid change, along with the unknown of what the future will look like, caused a lot of stress, fear, and uncertainty.

For business owners and leaders, helping your team navigate change is important not just for the business, but for the lives of the people who contribute to its success.

We asked some of the leaders and members of The Alternative Board with their best tip or advice when it comes to communicating change.

Communication is a Two-way Street

Most people find changes of any kind disconcerting at a minimum. If changes have been decided or not, clear communication is absolutely key. It needs to be a two-way street. Also take in questions via all mechanisms available i.e. phone, email, town hall meetings, etc. Everyone who feels connected to the need for change will understand, maybe even embrace it.

Glen Gill Owner at The Alternative Board Australia – Perth West

Include the Team in the Discussion

As many business leaders adapt to rapid changes, many team members are feeling left out of the discussion about what the future will look like for them, and for the places they work. Involve them in the discussion, ask them about their perspectives and ideas, have them set new goals and commitments for their role in the organisation.

We are all in this together, and that includes every member of our team. With the level of uncertainty ahead of us, we need to harness the shared wisdom of every member on our team of what changes are necessary, why they feel they are important, and what commitments they can make to help implement the changes.

Bob Haines President of The Alternative Board, Treasure Valley


Seek First to Understand

When most people think about “Effective Communication”, they perceive the term from the perspective of the message they are putting out i.e.: what they say and how they say it. Unfortunately, what we say is often less than half of the equation. What THEY say is usually much more important. Effective communication begins with discovery.

All human beings possess a powerful need to be understood, so begin your process by listening, learning, and understanding.  In doing so, you will engage your audience, learn a lot, discover you may have been making plenty of incorrect assumptions, and open up people’s listening. If your workforce is concerned about changes that will result from an uncertain future, this process will be even more effective.

Joe Zente CEO of The Alternative Board, Austin

Listen to be Heard

My school teacher wife often reminds her students, and her husband, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.”  Effective listening is not only polite, but it is also practical. If you want your message to be heard, start by listening well.  Purposeful listening drives three important results, which help ensure that when you speak, your words will connect.  Listening engages others.  Most people would rather be listened to than talked to. Listening edifies others.

When you make others feel good about themselves, they feel good about you. Finally, listening equips you in very important ways, with the information gathered and by seeing how the other person communicates.  When you combine the engagement, edification, and equipping that result from purposeful listening, you drastically improve the likelihood that whatever you say in response, will be heard well.  Choose your words carefully. They will matter.

Phil Schwolert Director of Membership Acquisition -The Alternative Board


Use Their Language Not Yours

Drop the corporate speak. Talk to employees in the language in which they feel most comfortable. Make communications as authentic, and human as possible, especially when delivering rules and regulations. They need to feel some warmth, not legislation.

Everyone learns and remembers information differently. Some people need to hear words to grasp the full meaning. Some only retain information when they read those words. Others remember visuals best. Still, others need a combination of these modalities to remember new information. When communicating critical information, use several different modes of communication to meet the wide array of learning styles of your audience.

Marilyn Heywood Paige  Chief Marketing Officer at Paige Black


Speak their Language

A majority of my employees speak Spanish as their first language. I make sure to communicate with my employees both in English and in Spanish. Now, more than ever, it is vital that my employees fully grasp all of my communications to them. Not only does this ensure understanding, but it also encourages a sense of community in which all of my employees feel valued and respected.

Christy Crook  President at Phoenix Masonry


Get Buy In

Communicating change requires getting buy-in. The only way to get buy-in is to communicate the “why.”  You may be implementing new policies, processes, or procedures, post-COVID. You need your employees, vendors, and customers to believe you have good reasons for what you’re doing.  If they don’t believe, they may not follow the requested behaviour, or worse, even try to sabotage it out of frustration.

Make sure your employees are confronting you when, not if, they don’t understand a new policy.  If they don’t feel comfortable asking why, out of fear of looking incompetent, they won’t. Then they might do it begrudgingly without any sense of control or autonomy – i.e. their opinions don’t matter.  Employee engagement drops off and pretty soon the culture you’ve been trying to build is off the cliff.

Valerie Koenig Owner at The Alternative Board Hawaii


Communicate the What and the Why

Change, even positive change, can be scary for team members, especially when so much seems to be constantly changing around us in present times. One way to help any changes in your business be accepted is to enrol each team member in an early discussion on why this change is necessary.

Ask open-ended questions like “What about this change concerns you the most?” or “Tell me how this change will be positive for you?” By asking these types of questions, you get a deeper understanding of the viewpoint of your team and can address it as an open dialogue. Communicating both the “what” and the “why” will help with greater adoption and acceptance.

Jodie Shaw Chief Marketing Officer for The Alternative Board


Listen to Understand

Normally we fear change because it is complicated to anticipate what the outcome will be. This is especially true within an organisation where uncertainty can affect how the workforce thinks, acts, and collaborates. Effective leadership is an essential skill in managing change, and effective listening is likewise a fundamental competency in leadership.

At the root of fear to change, there will always be concerns from our collaborators. These concerns must not only be investigated but they also need to be understood and addressed. The biggest mistake you can make is to assume that your people will listen to you and then adapt. No! It is the other way around. You always begin by listening to them and acting on their feedback. The more you do this, the better equipped you will be to align and lead your organisation to the future that you have envisioned.

Carlos Martinez Moreira Director Owner at The Alternative Board Mexico


Start with Why

Communicate why a change is needed. If the change is something under our control, then help the team understand why it’s important to make the change. Do not forget to include what’s in it for them. If the change was outside of our control, then explain why proactively crafting our response to the change makes a difference to the clients, to the team, and to each individual. Change isn’t easy, it needs to be clear why it’s important to each person impacted.

Laura Drury Owner at The Alternative Board – Greater Denver and Colorado Springs

Over Communicate

Increase the frequency of communication, and to be very transparent in communication. Additionally,  acknowledge that the situation is frightening and detail what you are doing to overcome the threats. Furthermore, as a leader, you need to walk the talk and display the behaviours that you want to encourage.  For example, if you require your employees to wear masks, you too must wear a mask. Have visual reminders everywhere!

Doug Kerr Owner at The Alternative Board – Etobicoke and Mississauga


Do you need help changing or adapting your business? Consider joining a local business advisory board. To learn more download The 19 Reasons Your Business Needs a Business Owner Advisory Board