Organizations may often miss the mark when it comes to internal communication during change, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Communication, when delivered effectively, can be a stabilizing force for employees, keeping operations steady even in the most turbulent of times. This month on the Bonfyre Breakdown, we’re unpacking a recent IC Kollectif article that discusses the one thing every internal communication strategy needs to do to be effective through change.
What’s it about?
Roger D’Aprix, the author and head of the communications consultancy D’Aprix & Co. LLC, examines the function of internal communications during times of change. In the context of work, change is abundant and accelerating. Markets are in upheaval as more and more organizations change the way they’re doing business in pursuit of things like digital transformation and automation. From leaders’ perspective, managing these changes can be exciting, complex, and demanding–all at the same time. But from employees’ perspective, this turbulence creates confusion and doubt, which in turn provokes two reactions: panic and denial. It’s up to communications professionals, D’Aprix argues, to manage and mitigate those responses.
Why do we love it?
D’Aprix hits the nail on the head about something we’ve discussed for a long time: internal communications is evolving. To many outside the internal communications function, it may appear the department’s purpose is to deliver corporate messages from the top-down. But if an internal communication strategy were nothing more than a transactional information delivery service, those feelings of panic and denial would be left perpetually unresolved. Why? Because raw information still needs context to be meaningful.
D’Aprix cuts to the heart of the matter when he says “When leaders don’t supply context around their pronouncements, they unknowingly trigger the choice for people to stand their ground, in short, to find a way to defend themselves against perceived danger or to run away.”
Imagine you’re an employee who goes into work one day to find out your whole department is being restructured. Your colleagues, people you’ve developed strong, motivating workplace relationships with over the years, are all being scattered to different floors. You’re being moved, too, but it’s unclear for how long, or how your future at the company looks beyond that. You’re in a new work context, with new responsibilities, in effectively a new work environment.
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Naturally, your first question would be to ask “Why?” But in the absence of an answer, D’Aprix says it’s human nature for employees to respond with fight-or-flight. Employees feel helpless with no one providing meaning for the change, and respond with rejection and outcry over the changes already in motion, or a vocal desire to return to the way things were before.
When we interviewed President of Ameren Transmission Shawn Schukar last year, he, too, emphasized that a good internal communication strategy for change management must answering “Why?” for employees. “If you can’t do that, it is not going to be successful,” he said.
In D’Aprix’s article for the IC Kollectif, our understanding of what it means for internal communicators to answer that question deepens. He notes that leadership decisions are often initially dictated by the company’s marketplace–its threats, opportunities, and forces. All of these elements must be part of an ongoing conversation with employees, held by leadership and leveraged through the internal communication strategy.
The concept of organizational transparency may seem radical to some, but its benefits are well documented. When organizations make genuine efforts to be transparent, employees are happier, they work harder, and they’re more productive. But in times of turbulence, the tendency on the part of leaders and communicators is to be less transparent. Communication with employees goes radio silent as communicators want to avoid disclosing information that may change, or even put the company at risk.
While D’Aprix doesn’t make the argument against radio silence, he does say that communications, whenever they do occur, must answer the “why” for both the company’s strategy and the results it’s bringing. D’Aprix says that professional communicators must “see the delivery of meaning as his or her number one job” as a result because change severs the comfortable connections we’ve made to do our jobs.
Employees can’t be left to repair their ties to meaning on their own. Change today is too complex, and employees are too overwhelmed for that. Internal communicators must be the ones to step in, break through the noise, and deliver the context that is crucial for understanding, navigating, and ultimately surviving change.
This month’s Bonfyre Breakdown discussed the IC Kollectif article titled “Delivering Meaning in a Turbulent Workplace.” Bonfyre Breakdown is the featured article series in our Monthly Roundup newsletter, a collection of our favorite culture, engagement, and communications articles from across the web. Subscribe today to see what all is highlighted in the latest newsletter!