The role of leadership communication in change - Oak Engage
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The role of leadership communication in change

   Minute Read     company culture

The role of leadership communication in change
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    Leadership communication during change is essential. It can set the tone and direction for the entire programme, addressing natural concerns when faced with changes to what we know.

    Oak Engage’s Change Report found that 74% feel that leaders need to do more to understand why employees are resistant to change. The remedy to this is as simple as two-way communication - and more of it. 

    From Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’, to Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step for man’, the words that stick in our heads for the right or wrong reasons are invariably those who have been at the forefront of significant movements. 

    Those at the top of organisations often have the most powerful voice. As a result one of the keys to successful change communication is having leaders and managers at the heart of it. 

    This blog on leadership communication during change includes:  

    • What is the difference between change management and change leadership?
    • Why leadership in change is important
    • How leaders should communicate during change 

    What is the difference between change management & change leadership?

    Change leadership is people centric, inspiring and motivating employees to work towards the objectives of change, whereas change management is more process driven. 

    Change management is around the tools and mechanisms required to deliver on the programme's aims. Change leadership focuses on the people side of change and ensuring that employees are bought into and working towards the end result. 

    Some leaders will be adept at both, but especially in larger organisations, line managers will likely drive new procedures and those higher up the chain will lead overarching cultural shifts. 

    Why leadership in change is important

    Leadership is absolutely essential to any successful transformation. 

    It allows organisations to get employees on-side emotionally, which increases the likelihood of buy-in. 18% of employees said their natural reaction to change would be to leave their job, so change obviously evokes strong emotions. 

    Strong leadership communication can get early engagement from employees, alleviate their natural fears towards change and even get them excited about it. 

    The top skills of a good change leader: 

    • Empathy - Understand any negative reaction to change and put yourself in the shoes of employees
    • Effective communication- Ability to communicate and resonate clearly with all stakeholders
    • Positivity- Enthusiasm for the change will reflect to your employees
    • Authenticity- Being genuine and transparent will build trust, even admittance of failures/challenges 

    Effective change leadership can… 

    • Build bonds between leadership and employees 
    • Gain the benefit of the doubt when things don’t go to plan
    • Trigger honest feedback to get to the crux of any issues quickly
    • Get everyone working towards the same goal and understand why they are doing this

    Recommended reading 📖: What type of leader are you?

    How leaders should communicate during change 

    Include employees in consultation

    In Oak’s Change Report, one respondent said: “Sometimes decisions are made higher up without taking the workers into account. Higher ups don’t always necessarily understand how things are run in the office for example and make decisions that make life harder for people for no reason.”

    When employees do not feel part of the change or that they have a say, disenchantment will be a natural reaction

    Employees are an organisation's biggest asset during change. They often know what works and what doesn’t at the coalface of operations. By including them in consultation phases, you don’t just gain a better understanding of the specifics that need to change, they’ll feel part of the conversation and more likely to be bought-in. 

    Providing anonymous spaces for feedback can also help a broader cross section of your workforce feel included. 

    Be authentic and transparent

    Employees will see right through it if you come across as inauthentic. Be honest about bumps in the road, what you expect from employees and what you promise them .You will bank a lot of goodwill by being truthful. 

    Business Communications Expert, Jenni Field, says: “As communicators, make sure that the leadership team are doing things the right way. There may be examples where leaders have the best interactions but their behaviours don’t demonstrate that.”

    Leadership communication should not be about corporate speak, particularly during change. Ensure that you understand employees' emotions and use tact when communicating, considering the needs of different groups. 

    Be clear and specific

    38% of those who are change resistant are as a result of fear of the unknown. 

    Employees need to know what is happening, what is expected of them and what exactly will change in order to feel comfortable. 

    In some way this has to be done from the top. ‘What will this new system help us achieve?’, ‘How will my job be impacted?’, ‘Will I even be needed when this new system goes live?’

    These are common questions that need answered with clarity and the only fully trusted answers will be sourced by those leading the change. 

    Whether by addressing employees directly or briefing managers for the information to cascade down to teams, clarity and consistency in your messaging is key. 

    Oak’s AI Curated Content allows you to get your messages across to individuals by helping them cut through the noise. Smart Delivery curates and surfaces content on an individual basis established by permissions set, employee’s own behaviours and preferences. Send content at frequencies and times that will get optimum engagement and get the message across to the individual.

    Recommended reading 📖 : 6 Steps to implementing change in the workplace

    Be visible to employees 

    Out of sight, out of mind. If leaders only pop up for the occasional message or visit then it is going to be difficult to build any sort of rapport with employees.

    Of course this is difficult to facilitate for CEOs of larger organisations, particularly when updates are sent through blanket emails or other means that are left unread. 

    However, you can utilise your internal communication channels. Oak’s Curated Content surfaces content that individual employees want and need to see. A personalised newsletter means a more engaging experience for the reader, so when those regular leadership updates do come through, employees take note of them. 

                       Image shows curated email newsletter

    Remember, leadership communication is not just about the contents of messaging. It is also about working with the internal communications function to ensure the message is seen by the relevant people. 

    Create a safe culture where employees can feedback 

    Gartner have reviewed the psychological safety and danger models. Highlighted are the comparative cultures where a fear of failure and speaking up or danger compared to the safety model that increases participation and where employees can be honest in speaking their mind. 

    Creating a culture where feedback is welcomed can replicate the psychological safety cycle, helping employees to be more comfortable in being transparent . By encouraging employee feedback during change programmes you will get honesty and innovation as a product of it. 

    Not only do safe spaces to feedback (anonymous or open) help create this positive environment, they also flag any issues in the project as soon as they arise.