Communicating change to gain employee ‘buy in’

We are living in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)  where change is the norm but outcomes are unpredictable.  Brexit and Trump are two examples of predictions that many thought would not come true.  One thing is for sure, change will be inevitable for all of us over the coming years.

How do you view change?

It all depend on your mindset!  Our reptilian brain is always scanning the environment for threats in order to keep us safe.  Therefore, this part of the brain likes normal patterns of behaviour and a level of certainty.

However, the mid brain likes novelty and it is hard-wired in all of us, to enjoy new experiences.  Think about how you light up when you buy a new gadget or go to a new country or try new activities.

Neuroscientists have found that dopamine a neurotransmitter chemical lights up in the brain when we experience ‘new’ things.  Dopamine creates a sensation of pleasure and makes us crave the sensation again.

So, how do you ensure that organisational changes can be viewed positively?

It boils down to, how you ‘sell’ the change.  For example, if you announce the ‘change’ as an ‘opportunity’, then it creates the reward centre in the brain to trigger.  Conversely if you announce the change as a ‘threat’ eg, ‘if we don’t make this change, then we will be out of a job’, clearly this is going to be viewed negatively.

3 Top Tips for creating the right conditions for change to be viewed positively

  1. Communicate with the employee in mind

Many announcements about organisational or process change talk about the benefits it will bring to the business.

At this stage, employees don’t care what the change will do to the organisation or customers.  What they want to know is, ‘what does this mean to me?’  Use language such as ‘what you will be doing and saying in the future is …..’.  This helps employees understand what will be different for them.  Obviously, you need to use positive language so the ‘novelty’ part of the mid-brain gets switched on.

  1. Set up one to one sessions with employees

I remember hearing an organisational announcement that would impact me.  I needed time to process the information and to ask questions at a later stage.  That opportunity wasn’t given to me, so I began to feel resentful about the change, because I didn’t think anyone cared about how I was feeling about the change.

Let’s face it, it isn’t difficult to set up one-to-one sessions after announcing a change.  It is so important to give employees an opportunity to voice out loud how they feel about the change.  If they are feeling worried, then a private discussion can allay their fears.

Time and time again, this process is missed and it creates ‘fear’ in the brain of employees.  A simple discussion can make the difference between a person viewing the change as an opportunity or threat to them.

  1. Match your ‘say with your do’

I remember on more than one occasion my boss cancelling my one to one session with him.  These sessions were important as it was ‘face time’ with my boss to talk about work priorities.  We would book a date in the diary to talk and he would cancel our meeting on the day.  He always had a good reason, but the message I took from it was ‘I am not important enough!’.  Everyone can cancel meetings once or twice, but if you are a manager who consistently changes or cancels meetings, what is the subliminal message you are giving your staff?

Start making sure the commitments you make are delivered.  If you don’t match your ‘say with your do’, you will create an atmosphere of distrust.

You will be known as a manager who is ‘all talk and no action’!

Through a period of change, it is absolutely paramount that what you communicate, you bring about.  Employees are looking for a level of certainty and they need to be assured that you honour your commitments.