Change is constant. Mergers and acquisitions, growth set-backs, leadership overhauls, transformations and company-wide policy reviews — whatever the change, it will impact your employees.

BIE hosted a discussion with Communications and Engagement Leader - ex Lloyds, Dixons Carphone and M&S, Helen Humphreys, and Communications Director at Entain, Jo Bleasdale, which centred around how to effectively communicate change internally.

To demonstrate, they shared a communication curve model, which takes employees through four stages of a communication journey. While people will move through the stages at a different pace and will reach points at different times, the fundamentals do not change, irrelevant of the complexity of the communication.

Here we share their model for success, with some examples to consider along the way.

The Change Curve

Four Steps to Communicating Successful Change

1. I Know – The first step is a one-way communication. It outlines what the change is and, most importantly, why is it happening. Fundamentally, it should be made clear that the change must take place. When the change has a significant business impact it is even more important that you get this first step right – set off on the wrong foot and you can quickly lose people on the journey.

Helen Humphreys provided an example from a major UK retailer who closed a large number of its High Street stores, with a loss of over three thousand people. With such a big people impact, the communications team needed to factor in the emotional response and the negative kick-back, while also supporting those remaining in the business.

Key considerations included anticipating the reaction from both colleagues who would be directly impacted and those who were not. As well as understanding how the leaders would feel and react to ensure they were in the best position to support and inform employees.

They also looked closely at the impact of any external communications that were not within their control. For example, as the store closures were announced to the Stock Market at 7am in the morning, it was likely that some employees would hear it on the news before line mangers were able to speak to them.

While a communication such as this will never be perfect and not everyone will be happy with the process, the key learnings were shared:

  • A cascade approach worked well. At 7am senior leaders were briefed by CEO. At 8am all store managers received the same briefing. Following these calls/meetings, everyone who attended was given an information pack. All employees affected were then taken into another briefing at 9am. This cascade approach of having an hour in between the meetings meant senior management has time to gather their thoughts, read the materials, and prepare ahead of one-to-one meetings.
  • The CEO managed all communications. This senior ownership meant that all people received a consistent message and enabled them to put the decision in the context of the strategy, which helped to explain the why.
  • They balanced the strategic message with the tactical – giving people bitesize information on what would happen next. Providing people with enough information so they felt informed while not overwhelming them.
  • It was a joint effort between HR and comms, and that partnership and alignment was essential in ensuring people were informed and supported.

2. I Understand – After you start moving through the change and begin preparing people to take action and mobilise commitment, that is when you bring in two-way communication channels. People will find it difficult to understand if they are not given the opportunity to ask questions, to have a conversation, to be able to be part of the debate – or in the above example, to vent. Two-way conversation channels are vital in helping employees gain understanding.

3. I Believe – Once people understand why the change is happening, it is then important they discuss it with each other. Employees should be given avenues to share stories, case studies and examples of what is happening. This peer-to-peer multi-directional communication helps to enhance belief. Surveys and research show that people trust those closest to them, much more than faceless senior teams.

4. I Action – When employees truly believe in why change is happening, they will be able to share stories of success themselves – what they are doing, how they are doing it and what the results are. Demonstrating and celebrating success will help people further back in the curve recognise the benefits of the change and reach the end of the curve themselves.

Helen Humphreys (left), Jo Bleasdale (right)

Select an enquiry type