Change can be like an elephant in the room — wild, unpredictable and difficult to manage. And without an internal communication strategy in place, employees can be left feeling anxious, wondering:

  • “What’s going to happen to me?”
  • “Why is this changing?”
  • “Who can answer my questions?”

But, you can tame the change beast and put employees’ anxiety at ease by following these seven communication fundamentals:

1. An employee communication plan should always be your first step.

The standard approach when planning a big change is to begin communication after many events have already happened: Senior leaders have identified the need, change teams have engaged sponsors and project teams have recruited resources. But having internal communication planned after these actions is not early enough in the process. The second that the change is identified and the team is formed, the communication process needs to begin.

Make sure you complete these three steps to kick off the internal communication planning process:

  • Conduct a stakeholder analysis of impacted employees. Create your profile by deciding on key groups and what and when changes will happen for them. Then do research to understand employees’ perceptions of change.
  • Develop a communication plan that defines objectives and describes how you’re going to achieve those desired outcomes. Leverage this material to create key messages for impacted groups, as well as all employees, by asking yourself the following questions: What’s the most important thing each group needs to know and do? How will the outcome benefit the audience?
  • Identify key contributors that need to be involved in the plan. Leaders need to agree on the solutions and ensure that resources are assigned. You can facilitate the plan by working with the leadership team to create a shared vision of the change and define communication roles.


2. Ask lots of questions before you start sharing information.

When change is happening, you don’t always have all the answers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask the questions. Get key stakeholders together to work through important areas. Channel your inner investigative reporter and ask these essential questions:

Target audience

  • Will this initiative impact employees at all levels?
  • Does this affect both HQ and other staff?

Scope of change

  • What will this change mean for our business and employees?
  • What types of new processes will be implemented?

Areas of impact

  • Will this be a global initiative?
  • Will these changes be implemented consistently across the business?

Timing of change

  • Will this be a phased initiative?
  • How close are we to launch?

Reasons for change

  • Why are we launching this initiative now?
  • What prompted this project initially?

Specific areas of change

  • How will this initiative affect the way employees do their jobs?
  • What do employees need to do differently in order for this initiative to succeed?


3. There is a formula to craft effective change messages.

Most change communication messages share the same flaw: They’re 99% fact-driven. While employees don’t disagree with data, facts alone are not enough to persuade employees or motivate them to change.

Remember the mnemonic ROY G. BIV (for the colors in the rainbow) and PEMDAS (for the order of operations in math)? Well here’s a new one for you: LEAD (logic, emotion, action and destination). This formula will help you remember four key elements every change message should include. The right balance is:

  • 50 percent emotion
  • 20 percent action
  • 20 percent logic
  • 10 percent destination

Learn more about implementing this formula.


4. An elevator speech helps leaders and managers tell the same story.

For some, the term “elevator speech” may bring up thoughts of pushy salespeople making their pitch. But, an elevator speech can be a useful tool to help leaders and managers explain organizational change or other issues to their teams.

An elevator speech provides a short “script” to get the conversation started about what is changing and why. As a result, it’s an essential component of a communication toolkit.

To make an elevator speech “stick,” it needs to focus on the information employees really need to know. Here are three tips for creating an effective elevator speech:

  • Keep it short. Two to three sentences (30 to 50 words) and should take less than one minute to tell. (Remember, you’re in an elevator.)
  • Make it simple. Avoid corporate jargon and complicated explanations.
  • Provide clear understanding of the change, including:
  • What is changing?
  • Why?
  • What does it mean for us?


5. There are five pieces of content you should always share.

With big change comes lots of information. There are so many details to remember, but it’s important to share information in five key areas. Here’s an example of what content employees need to know if you’re making changes to compensation.

  1. Explain what’s changing.
    Outline how the new structure differs from the old plan. Share important revised details, such as updated pay scales and effective dates.
  2. Explain what hasn’t changed.
    Be clear about those plan aspects that have remained unchanged.
  3. Share why the changes are necessary.
    Be candid with employees, letting them know what’s in it for them. Then share how the change will help the company meet its strategic objectives.
  4. Let employees know how they will be impacted.
    Communicate how the change will impact employees’ pay adjustments going forward.
  5. Communicate what employees need to do.
    Share any steps that employees need to take, and let them know about additional communications or resources, such as FAQ documents, that will help them further understand these important changes.


6. Create snack-sized communication to engage employees.

When it comes to employee communication channels — newsletter, intranet or even a benefits guide — employees don’t have time to sit down and consume an entire meal of information. They just want a bite (quick take) or snack (a little more substance) to satisfy their hunger for the topic. It’s no different for change communication. Even though employees want all the details, they don’t need it all at once. Keep your content snack sized with these three tips:

  • Keep it short. Allow yourself just 25 to 50 words to state your case.
  • Use a single compelling image. Accompany your message with a single photo and brief caption that will grab your employees’ attention.
  • Verbify it. Create action-oriented headlines. If the only thing an employee reads is the headline, he or she should still understand what he or she needs to do.


7. Town halls should be for dialogue, not just presentations.

Research shows that the most memorable part of any town hall is the Q&A session. Leverage this strength by designing town halls to respond to employee buzz about change and reserve the bulk of the session for interaction.

Here are a few ways to create a more interactive town hall:

  • Set expectations. Ask your leader to state right from the beginning that the town hall has been designed to include participation. The leader should then articulate how the session will work (especially if the format is different than previous town halls).
  • Rethink the agenda. Invite employees to interact throughout the session, not just at the end. For example, kick off the town hall by asking participants to answer a question in the web chat, use the polling tool during the middle of the presentation and open up the phone line for a Q&A session at the end.
  • Create a mini breakout. No matter how many employees are present, you can still facilitate a breakout called “the paired share.” Instruct each person to talk to his or her neighbor about a question or topic for three minutes. Then ask volunteers to share what their pair discussed.
  • Vote with hands (or feet). If you don’t have access to technology, you can still ask employees to share their viewpoint. The simplest approach? Call for a show of hands. A more fun and energetic way is “voting with your feet.” Instruct employees to move to the part of the room that represents their opinion, then ask the leader to comment on how employees are voting.

There’s so much to learn about change communication. Check out our video about communicating big change for more tips and tricks.

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