Change in any organization is bound to bring with it resistance and strain. For many organizations this stress can be mitigated, or avoided outright, if the causal factors are recognized and addressed early in the process (Bridges, 2003). Research on change management and corporate wellness will generate a extensive list of strategies managers should consider include to reduce the stress brought about by change. Bridges lists “politics, structure, roles, resources, culture, histories, and leadership [as] either helping or hindering [an organization’s] ability to manage transition” (p. 115). Merging these suggestions into one simply methodology reveals one common denominator for stress’s causal factor – poor or ineffective communication. No matter the barrier, honestly identifying it and openly communicating with the workforce about it is the first positive step toward lower organizational stress during times of change (3M, 2010). This short paper will discuss why communication is so important and take a brief look at how to keep it effective.
Calming the Anxiety
Why. The productive potential effective communication provides is no secret; many success stories are founded on the principles of open, clear, and effective communication among the workforce top to bottom during transitions (Loden, 1996). As a company moves through compulsory changes in production methods, reorganization, or even relocation, the workforce will be necessarily anxious about how the changes will affect their work and personal lives (Brand, 1998). “[T]he practice of change management would do well to focus not only on aspects of the particular change but also on the context in which the change occurs and the individuals undergoing the change” (Herold, Fedor, & Caldwell, 2007, p. 949). That is, change does not happen by itself; it cannot happen without the support of the people it affects. Truly effective change management must include an extensive effort from top to bottom of any corporation (Berger, Sikora, & Berger, 1994).
When going through any transition, adapting a culture of open-communication will maximizes the potential and talents of the entire workforce (Davenport, Prusak, & Wilson, 2003). Clear and effective communication should increase the granularity on not only the how of the desired change, but the why of it. In the past, one could get away with only explaining the how of a task, yet more and more these days, it is becoming necessary to explain the why; this adaptation has proved difficult for some of the older leadership who were raised in a time when simply being told to do it was enough to make it happen (Scroggins, 2008). Not addressing employee concerns by refusing to openly communicating strategies in order to mitigate those worries will lessen the impression one’s workforce has about how their leadership values them (Kotter, 1996). A small investment of time in the short-term spent listening to, and addressing workforce concerns, can mean large savings in time, anxiety, and failed (unsupported equals unimplemented) change process realization (3M, 2010; Brand, 1998; Bridges, 2003; Christensen, 2005; Kotter; 1996; Scroggins, 2008).
How. This may not be easy. Open communication means that managers may have to relinquish complete control over the conversation and processes (Roughead, 2011). The intellectual maturity to have productive conversations about real change takes a culture of openness and frankness that, just getting to that point, may be a barrier to change or a source of anxiety (3M, 2010). In inflexible bureaucracies, some members of the workforce with the potential to help in the change process may not be encouraged to do so, they may even be punished if they go out of the boundaries drawn for them by an inflexible, non-communicative management (Kotter, 1996). To foster an environment where open communication can freely relieve the anxieties created by the change processes (whether actual or perceived affects), corporations must “value candid discussions far more than they do today[;] norms associated with political politeness, with nonconfrontational diplomaticese, and with killing-the-messenger-of-bad-news will have to change” (p. 163) for effective communication to become common.
Change agents must account for the broader implications of the proposed change, its timing in relation to other corporate efforts, its impact on the organizational environment and people, and even the kinds of people who will need early recruiting into the change process to make it successful. Managers should dispense with old methodologies of excluding employees from the conversation. The negative consequences of not trusting one’s employees to understand the process or by putting people with potential into small boxes and micromanaging them” (Kotter, 1996, p. 166) will betray the change effort’s potential for success. Without explaining how the personal and productive lives of the workforce will be positively affected by the proposed change, managers are missing a critical opportunity to increase employee buy-in and support for the effort(s). Without that support, change efforts have a much smaller chance of being implemented and enjoying the enduring success management seeks by adopting the change plan in the first place (Bridges,2003).
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