Six Faulty Assumptions about Organizational Change Communications


Back to all Free Resources          View PDF Version

Linda Ackerman Anderson
Dean Anderson

In the last decade, leaders have come to realize the importance of good communications during organizational change. Many have come to this realization because of the pain and chaos created in the absence of communication, or when their traditional communications have not worked.

Communications is now an expected component of most organizational change management plans, which is a step in the right direction. However, there is still a long way to go beyond standard communication to create effective change organizational change communications that can actually drive change in your organization. To produce good change communications, leaders must upgrade their old assumptions and practices. Here are the six most common faulty assumptions leaders (and corporate communications specialists!) make about change communications. Are any of these occurring in your organizatinal change efforts?

First, leaders often think, “If I just tell people the new direction, they will get on board.” They deliver one-way, tell-oriented change communications, which they assume is adequate. With this mindset, they use talking-head presentations or videos, newspaper articles, information-heavy PowerPoint shows, or email blast announcements, and expect these to suffice to get people’s buy-in. But these vehicles alone are not effective. When change impacts people deeply, they need an opportunity to ask questions, go home and think about the message of the change communication, talk to their peers to discuss the impacts of it on them, and perhaps ask more questions. Only then will they really integrate and understand the message. Only then will it penetrate their concerns or fears. Change communications is not successful because the message was delivered; it is successful only when it is heard, understood, and used. And this requires two-way dialogue.

Secondly, leaders assume that the corporate communications group can handle organizational change communications, since they don’t know that the two types of communication are different. Most corporate communications almost exclusively rely on one-way communication vehicles such as those named above, and are frequently trained to communicate key messages in “safe” language. Change communications, delivered through messages through traditional vehicles and “corporate speak,” often waters down the urgency or magnitude of organizational change, and sends an underlying message that nothing is really changing.

Typically, corporate communications people are wired to inform, not engage. If your changes are major, then your communications require—demand!— methods that get people’s attention and engage them in the organizational change dialogue. Corporate communications people are trained to write good copy, but are not skilled in the organization effectiveness approaches that promote stakeholder engagement. Since organizational change communications must engage people, partner your communications staff with your organizational development/organization effectiveness and change management professionals.  This will better integrate your change communications with an effective stakeholder engagement strategy for your specific organizational change.

Third, leaders assume that communication is an event…“I already made that announcement, didn’t I?” In reality, change communications must be treated as a process to be effective. Just because you delivered the communication (an event) does not mean that you are done. A communication is complete only when the receiver has integrated, understood, and applied the message. This often requires you to deliver the message multiple times using different vehicles, including face-to-face meetings where people have an opportunity to ask questions and openly wrestle with the impacts of the message. After each change communication, follow up with feedback and discussion, supporting people’s level of understanding as well as their emotional reactions. Plan a week or two between face-to-face change communication events so people can surface their concerns and have an opportunity to address them during the next meeting. Make sure each event moves the change communication process forward.

Fourth, leaders assume that change communications can be planned according to a predetermined timeline. But organizational change is so dynamic that you will never know with certainty exactly when you have something valuable to communicate. Consequently, much of your communications will need to be far more spontaneous than those you have predetermined on your timeline. If your organizational change efforts are complex and transformational in nature, then you will need a change communications person “attached at the hip” of your change project leader and team to help navigate to the “roller coaster” of your needed change communications. This person must be capable of picking up on the unexpected, sensing people’s fears and concerns, and able to respond quickly to rumors, course corrections, and surprises. Some of your most important change communication events will emerge as the dynamics of your organizational change unfold.

Fifth, leaders assume that they should only communicate when they have a decision to announce. Often during transformational change, more is unknown than is known, especially at the beginning. In the absence of clarity, what do you do when you don’t have answers, but people are expecting and needing you to communicate? It is far better for you to fill the void than to allow people’s fears and rumors to fill it. Continue to communicate, sharing the questions you are working to answer, the change process you are undertaking, the criteria you are using, and then the hoped for timeline when actual answers will be known.

Sixth and last, leaders assume that their “talk” will speak louder than their “walk” (but it never does!) Many leaders communicate one expectation for change to the organization and then continue to behave in the “old state” ways, as if the organization must change, but not them. Talk about sending an organizational change-stopping mixed message! Especially when change is transformational, leaders’ credibility is built or destroyed based on their ability to demonstrate the new ways in word and action. One of your most powerful change communications is when your senior leaders walk the talk of the new directions themselves, first, and continue over time to consistently do so. Then people know the organizational change is real. Remember, leadership behavior is a vital and extremely overt form of change communication.

To set up your organizational change efforts for success, make sure that your senior leaders understand the importance of sound, credible, and impactful change communications. Help them recognize if they hold any of the preceding faulty assumptions or practices, and then provide new ways to communicate that will help drive the success of your efforts. Your investment in good change organizational change communications is worth its weight in gold!

One Comment


  1. Nov 16, 2011
    6:34 pm

    PROSPER VICTORY

    WHAT ARE THE ASSUMPTIONS THAT UNDERLYING ORGANIZATIONAL COMMUNICATION

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

Share This Page…

Change Leader’s Network News

Get the latest industry research, updates and resources on personal and organizational change sent to your inbox with "Change Leader's Network News." It's free!

Search

Endorsements

With this extensively upgraded second edition, Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson solidify their status as the leading authorities on change leadership and organizational transformation. This is without question the most comprehensive approach for leaders who are serious about making change a strategic discipline. Beyond Change Management is an intelligent book by two of the most knowledgeable and accomplished masters of their craft, and it’s one that every conscious change leader should adopt as their guide to creating more meaningful organizations.

Jim Kouzes
Coauthor of the bestselling The Leadership Challenge and The Truth About Leadership


Read this great book by Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson and learn how to use their multi-dimensional approach to lead transformation masterfully and consciously!

Marshall Goldsmith
World-renowned executive coach
Author of the New York Times best-sellers, MOJO and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There


An important move toward a more integral business consulting approach, very much recommended for those interested in the topic and ways to actually apply it. 

Ken Wilber
Author, The Integral Vision, A Brief History of Everything, and over a dozen other best-sellers


Dean and Linda are core to the field of conscious change leadership, and continue to stretch and push its boundaries in this rich and deep compendium. This is a must read from two consummate thought leaders who have devoted their careers to developing highly successful change leaders. Read it and immediately improve your change leadership or consulting success.

Bev Kaye
CEO, Career Systems International
Author of Love 'em or Lose 'em: Getting Good People to Stay


This book is about mastery of leading the transformational change process written by masters of the craft.  For corporate leaders and consultants who consider themselves committed students of the process of organizational change.

Daryl Conner
Chairman, Conner Partners
Author of Managing at the Speed of Change and Leading at the Edge of Chaos


Beyond Change Management is a timely how-to guide for leading change in the 21st century. It provides both a conceptual roadmap, and practical tools and techniques for successfully transforming organizations.

Noel Tichy
Professor, University of Michigan
Co-author with Warren Bennis of JUDGMENT: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls


Once again, Dean and Linda have nailed it! Beyond Change Management is an extraordinary book examining the shifts in change management that have occurred over the years. This book offers real, practical solutions for change practitioners to become extraordinary conscious change leaders.

Darlene Meister
Director, Unified Change Management
United States House of Representatives


Powerful business solutions to the current chaos facing many organizations today. Dean Anderson and Linda Ackerman Anderson get to the heart of change, the human touch, by using timeless techniques and tools.
Ken Blanchard
Co-Author of The One Minute Manager and Leading at a Higher Level


Having applied this methodology for two years to manage change inside Microsoft, it has been instrumental in our ability to land change effectively, engage employees and deliver results quickly. The Change Leader’s Roadmap allows us to lead change with precision and minimal outside consulting, while at the same time growing change leadership capability internally. This is the most complete change methodology we have found anywhere.

Pete Fox
General Manager, Corporate Accounts
Microsoft US


This newest edition of The Change of Leader’s Roadmap is an invaluable, comprehensive and practical guide for envisioning an organization’s desired future, designing the structures and practices necessary to make it happen, and implementing them effectively. The book describes the change process in nine distinct phases and outlines the activities and tasks that need to occur in each phase. It provides change leaders with an essential map for successfully traversing the complex and uncertain terrain of transformational change.   

Thomas G. Cummings
Professor and Chair, Department of Management & Organization
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California


This is the next best thing to having Dean, Linda and the Being First team riding alongside your complex change initiative. The Change Leader’s Roadmap breeds confidence in senior executive “Champions” to guide not just a successful transformational change, but most importantly, to develop the mission critical organizational CULTURE that will ensure unparalleled return on investment. Nothing I have seen in my 32 years of leading change comes close.

Jeff Mulligan
Former CEO, Common Wealth Credit Union
Mayor, City of Lloydminster


After implementing more than 2000 business strategy and operational excellence initiatives, we set out to find the best change methodology and toolbox in the world. The methodology this book describes is it! Study it thoroughly, because the thinking, process approach and pragmatic tools really work!

Thomas Fischer
Director COO
Valcon Management Consultants A/S
Copenhagen


A practical, step-by-step guide for change leaders, managers and consultants. The book provides conceptually grounded, real world, time tested tools and guidance that will prove invaluable to those faced with navigating the challenges of leading organizational change in today's turbulent times.

Robert J. Marshak, Ph.D.
Senior Scholar in Residence
MSOD Program, American University
Organizational Change Consultant