When Do You Need a Change Management and Communications Plan?

/ Christine Andrukonis

In our work with leaders of large organizations, we’ve found that company leaders often underestimate key change situations, and they consistently fail to recognize the impact of their changes on employees’ sense of security, agency, and identity.

We all know that change in the workplace is hard, and that employees need to feel not only comfortable with the direction of the Company, but involved and valued in the process of change. Still, we often think that change management and communications plans are only necessary for complex strategic changes such as mergers, acquisitions or other big restructuring efforts. But sometimes they’re necessary for even the simpler changes that companies face.

So what types of changes really require a strategic plan? For example, do you really need a change management and communication plan for an office move? How about a Company name change? A reporting-line change?

The answer, for all three scenarios, is yes.

Each of these situations represents a disruption for employees, and although leaders may view the changes themselves as tactical, they can in fact have a deep psychological effect on employees and result in employee engagement and retention issues if they are not handled carefully. Here’s why:

  • Relocating an office or shifting seating arrangements seems straightforward enough, but the changes may impact people at their very core – shaking up their sense of security, social belonging, and maybe even their financial stability or quality of life. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows us, in business, these needs can have an impact on employee productivity and success.
  • When a Company changes its name, it may evoke questions about identity – what are the core beliefs of this company? Why do I work here? Do I still fit in? Will the Company still need me? Inevitably, some employees will begin asking these questions, and they will look to leadership for the answers.
  • Perhaps most critical among these examples is a reporting-line change. Again and again, internal Company surveys show us that the manager-employee relationship is one of the most critical factors in employee satisfaction and engagement. When these relationships shift, they can radically alter the workplace landscape. How will the new reporting lines honor the interpersonal dynamics of the group, and preserve the trust built up between employees and their managers? How will leaders help maintain the affected individuals’ sense of effectiveness and agency?

The Solution

When you are faced with a seemingly “tactical” change, take a step back and ask yourself how the change may impact your people. Then, treat the change as you would any other strategic initiative: Plan early and plan thoughtfully. Take time to involve and understand your stakeholders – look beyond their work and work processes to get a better understanding of their motivations, their relationships, their ideas, and their fears.

When you put the employee experience at the center of your planning and communications, you can use design thinking to frame out the ideal “user experience” of the change. Then, once you have a plan in place, it’s important to work with Company and change leaders to make sure it happens.

No two change journeys are the same, and it’s important to understand how even activities that appear more “tactical” can have a serious impact on your organization. Ask us how we can help you create a customized plan that works for your situation.