When change fatigue strikes, seize the communication opportunity

You can help your colleagues embrace the unavoidable twists and turns by offering a mission-connected, big-picture view and explaining their respective roles in the next chapter.

It’s rare to find any company today that isn’t undergoing nearly continuous change. 

Change is necessary—to respond to mutating market conditions, take advantage of new technology or embrace innovation—and it can be painful.

Employees often see change management initiatives as signs of trouble or, at the very least, sources of job stress. Internal communication teams worry about employees’ being overwhelmed by change fatigue.

Could change fatigue really be just the stress of employees who feel things are out of control? In employee focus groups and interviews with a wide range of companies and industries, we often hear employees talk about change initiatives as if they’re a fleeting whim of leadership that will shift again before long.

This signals a missed opportunity to engage employees in the change. Communicators can help by linking the change to the company vision or business strategies.

For instance, let’s say the vision is about enabling clients to run their businesses more efficiently, and the change involves moving the value proposition from a software product to consultative service.

Talk about how that will enable the company to give clients more customized solutions specific to their unique business challenges. There’s a business reason for the change that will benefit clients and help the company flourish. Then engage employees in their roles in that shift. 

From writing code to writing marketing materials, employees will play a part in making the change happen. Help them see the excitement of that, as well as the career opportunities the change could afford.

Sometimes change fatigue is spurred by an initiative that negatively affects people, such as closing a plant or other facility. Of course, that’s not a change to communicate as something exciting; it’s a somber occasion when the company has to part ways with employees.

The news can include messaging that puts that change in context. You can, and should, communicate the business reasons for this change, how departing employees are being treated in ways that reflect the values of the company, and how the decision is rooted in a sense of responsibility for the future of employees who remain. Engage employees in showing support for their colleagues affected by the change, as well as in their roles moving the company forward.

Assuming your company leaders aren’t making change willy-nilly with no business rationale, you can do a lot to fight change fatigue with communication. Give employees the information they need to see the reason for the change, how it supports the overall goals of the company, and how they can help align with the improvements the change is meant to achieve.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin is CEO of Tribe. A version of this post first appeared on the Tribe blog.

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