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Senior management support essential for successful change communication

01 Jun, 2020 Change communication

Just as the seasons change continually, so does technology change our world. Despite the accumulation of new technological channels, employees still want to see the CEO and senior managers face-to-face more often, according to workplace research. When upper management do this, they improve employee satisfaction levels more strongly than arms-length tools such as newsletters, mass emails, intranets and apps. The responses from focus groups confirm these findings. There is no doubt that successful change communication depends on successful relationships with team members.

In view of these findings, you need to bite the bullet and push managers to allocate more time to being physically present to their team. It is often difficult to do this because hard working  managers, especially senior managers/executives may not want to give more time to their team members, and so they don’t want to hear your message about this. And, of course, COVID variants will be reducing face-to-face time for years to come.

Survey employees about their workplace communication

When trying to convince managers to brief their team more about their workplace performance and the direction of the organization or division, you can reinforce your point by:

  1. referring to the results of Gallup surveys of employee engagement
  2. referring to the results of employee surveys within your organization.

This means that the recommendation to meet face-to-face more often is not just your opinion, but is the opinion of employees themselves – and after all, employee engagement is a priority in most organizations.

Gallup surveys

Ever since an influential finding first discussed in Gallup’s State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report in 2015, the firm has emphasized in various articles the importance of managers to the key workplace factor of employee engagement. For instance, in this 2015 article,”Managers Account for 70% of Variance in Employee Engagement” through to this 2021 article, “How Influential Is a Good Manager?” As a result, of this finding, you can quote it safely in any discussion on employee engagement because the attitude of employees towards change will be influenced by their degree of engagement in their work and the extent to which they trust their manager.

Internal surveys

Expert internal communication consultant, Roger D’Aprix says in his book, The Credible Company,

“Practically all the research indicates that the most preferred communication experience at work is live and face-to-face. This is particularly so in the relationship between the worker and their immediate supervisor.”

This also means you must organize surveys of employees about workplace communication. The HR department in most larger organizations already surveys employees. You just need to ensure communication questions are included in the surveys.

If employees aren’t surveyed at least annually by the HR department, you should initiate your own communication surveys. You can get guidance on this from Internet searches or from specialist consultancies. Invariably employees will say communication from their bosses and senior management is inadequate, and therefore this gives you ammunition for persuading senior managers to change their behavior.

As a substitute, you can conduct a couple of focus groups with a representative sample of employees. They will give you plenty of ammunition.

Another way to achieve this change is to get top management to agree to build this type of communication into the job description of all senior executives and business unit managers. You can read my article, “How to fix chronically poor manager communication,” for insights into identifying managers’ communication competencies needed in your organization, measuring managers’ communication skills, and arranging interpersonal training for managers.

The key forces behind successful change management

These findings also apply to change communication, which is important because one of the fundamental characteristics of our society is the increasing pace of change at every level.

Research by Australian employee communication specialist, Rodney Gray, found the key forces behind successful change management. He worked back from the responses to the survey question “Major changes appear well planned and implementation of changes well handled” and found that there were three key areas driving change:

  1. The strongest component of successful change management was good communication (high correlation of 0.72).
  2. The second strongest correlation was organizational satisfaction and culture (correlation of 0.65).
  3. The other factor, upward communication, rated a 0.54 correlation, ie employees were satisfied their feedback and comment to those higher up the chain were being listened to.

In turn, the key factors comprising good employee communication were found to be:

(1) sufficient information provided to employees about change (correlation of 0.69)
(2) cross-area communication in which people from different departments communicated well outside their immediate workplace (correlation of 0.68).

The second strongest aspect of communication that employees wanted was good communication (appearances) from the CEO or Managing Director (correlation of 0.63).

Close behind was a third category of being treated with respect and dignity (0.62) and upward communication (0.60).

The fourth group comprised four factors:

  1. Change consultation (0.58)
  2. Divisional management communication (0.57)
  3. Executive briefings (0.53
  4. Employee recognition (0.52)

The strength of all of these correlations indicates that the aspects they relate to are important to effective communication and the management of major change.

As a communicator, you could think about the implications of these findings and how you could make changes in your own priorities.

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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