Signal your intentions to avoid avoidance

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Almost every day in some way we are impacted by change of some sort. Some are small and go almost unnoticed while others are disruptive. Some changes are expected and people take it in their stride while others catch people unaware and they find the change difficult to handle.

In assisting and enabling organisations to prepare and move through change we find a significant challenge remains in organisations in communicating any change in a meaningful and engaging way for people at all levels. There are many reasons for this occurring; communication is not tailored to meet the needs of range of audiences, managers are under-prepared or don’t invest adequate time communicating, the case for change is unclear and when communicated the signals are either mixed or simply not strong enough.

Communication has to be impactful, meaningful, relevant, and very clear.  Why?

First and foremost, we are hard wired to gravitate towards “emotion before reason”[1]. In an emotional state people are less likely to hear critical messages and pick up on signals unless they are strong and clear. Other factors that impact communication are that people will also be concerned about two issues; what they have to give up or what they will lose[2]. If this is not addressed the likelihood of people hearing and acknowledging the benefits that change brings diminishes significantly. Also, people do not want to look foolish as they move towards the new and unfamiliar and as such often express concern that they do not have sufficient resources to cope with the change. These and other factors all have the capacity to interrupt clear communication signals.

Here are 4 suggestions and approaches to improve your message and signal clarity:

  • Ensure people are clear on the outcomes that will result from the change. Too often managers react rather than respond and so prepare an activity list of what has to be done rather than investing time to ensure people understand why the change is required and what the outcomes of the change will be.
  • Can people see the whole picture and not feel they are holding only one piece of the jigsaw? Without the whole change picture, people will be uncertain and more likely to avoid taking the required actions as they will be concerned about making mistakes or letting you down. Therefore a clear signal is to lay out the change picture being careful not to understate or overstate the situation. Also ensure the links to other plans and initiatives are clear and unambiguous.
  • Script, tailor and test your message to your audience. Think not only about the content, consider carefully your audience, the tone, timing and the delivery channel. One method may convey understanding to one group while to another it may be missed entirely.
  • Allocate and invest the time needed to support the change and, in particular, the people going through change. Many managers would respond that this is a given, however our observation is this harder than you might think. Often, while sufficient time is invested in the beginning of the change process, where challenges occur is sustaining your time commitment until you are certain the change has been adopted.

Communication is essential for effective sustainable change. The time managers choose to invest has the biggest impact on how communication is shaped and how clearly signals are transmitted because people further down in your organisation are looking for these signals from you to guide them as the change is implemented.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.


[1] Managing the Human Animal; Nigel Nicholson

[2] Why Change Doesn’t Work; Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley