Explore the Levels of Change Management

5 Tips for Better Change Management Communication (+ Free Resources)

Neely McHarris

10 Mins

prsoci-change-management-professionals-discuss-effective communications

Change is constant. In fact, recent findings suggest that 75% of businesses predict more change over the next three years. In reality, half of the initatives failed and only 34% were clear successes, and weak change management communication was a top reason.

To improve the odds, this article draws from Prosci best practices to give you five actionable tips that will enhance your communication and increase your project's chances of success.

We have proof that open, consistent communication is among the top contributors to change success. We even reflect on top contributors to change success in our Prosci report.

These tips will have you and your team ready for upcoming changes. 

Communicating for Change Success

1. Structure your efforts

Communication isn't new to organizations, and many have departments dedicated to this crucial task. However, when communication occurs in the context of a change, it's not effective to simply tell people facts. To help individual employees successfully navigate a transition, communication must be focused and structured in specific ways.

Answer the “what” and the “why”

One aspect of structuring communication for change management involves intentionally and sequentially releasing messages into the organization. An effective communication plan first answers questions about why the change occurs and what it means to individuals.

Once employees have internalized messages about the need for change, communications shift to focus more on how the change impacts people.

Structure CM efforts

Plan targeted communication across different groups

A second aspect of structure relates to the receivers of communications. Over the course of the project, the target of communications might shift from senior leaders to people managers to front-line employees. Each of these groups receives communications throughout the project, but the amount of focus given to each group may adjust. In the absence of a structured communication plan as a part of a bigger change management approach, communications may be conveying the right information to the right groups at the wrong times.

Create a formal communication plan

From a more tactical perspective, structuring the communication effort means creating a formal communications plan as a tangible deliverable for the project. Communications should not be ad hoc. They should be designed and deliberate. Communicating without planning the communications effort is ineffective. Effectively planning for communications and then integrating these communications into the overall change management and project plans ensures that information delivery aligns with project progress without missing messages or points in the timeline.

Follow steps for an effective change management communication plan

One useful communication model for change management is The Prosci ADKAR Model, which represents the stages employees go through during organizational change:

  • Awareness – Of the need for change
  • Desire – To participate and support the change
  • Knowledge – On how to change
  • Ability – To implement the change
  • Reinforcement – To sustain the change

It also lets you check how well your communication works throughout the change process.

The ADKAR Model provides a framework for aligning communications and actions to your audience's mindset during each phase.

Read the article here to learn how to quantify change management. 

There are four key steps to leverage the ADKAR Model:

  • Assess – Evaluate the current awareness levels of various employee groups. This establishes a starting point.
  • Design – Customize messages and mediums based on the desired ADKAR outcome for each audience segment.
  • Deliver – Share consistent messages using channels tailored to each group. Gather feedback to monitor engagement.
  • Evaluate – Review the impact of communications and adjust the plan based on the response.

The change management communication plan focuses on the Awareness and Reinforcement elements of the ADKAR Model. It identifies target groups, crafts tailored messages for each, determines frequency and delivery mechanisms, and assigns sender roles.


How Each Plan Primarily Influences the ADKAR Model

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The Sponsor Plan has the highest impact on Awareness, Desire and Reinforcement while the People Manager Plan influences all five ADKAR elements. The Communications Plan primarily impacts Awareness and Reinforcement. The Training Plan serves primarily to enable Knowledge and Ability.


Effective communication requires more than just flashy formats and excessive frequency. It involves strategic alignment to the stage of change, customization to the needs of each group, and continuous refinement based on feedback.

2. Start sooner

"No one says they learned about a change too early. But many people say they've learned about a change too late."

Michelle Haggerty, Chief Operating Officer and U.S. President, Prosci

Communications are most effective when they start early in the project lifecycle. Early Initial communications are more proactive and can mitigate the negative consequences from failing to engage employees.

In fact, starting communication efforts earlier in the project was third on the list of what respondents would do differently on the next project in the Best Practices in Change Management research. 

 Start change communication sooner

Prevent misinformation and rumors

When employees know a change is coming but don't have answers to key questions, they tend to make them up. The answers they come up with on their own are often different from and worse than the truth. Lack of communication early in a project results in misinformation and rumors, which can be devastating to the project. This misinformation can breed resistance, and it creates large barriers for the project team to overcome later in the project lifecycle.

Engaging leaders in open dialogue with employees, even in the early stages, builds trust. Implementing transparent FAQ sections within communication plans is a best practice. These sections anticipate and address common questions, providing clarity and reducing speculation.

Fostering employee engagement through early, open communication helps demonstrate respect and concern for how change impacts employees.

Be transparent in your approach

Even if you haven't established all the details for the change, you still need to be communicating to employees. For instance, you can still share information about the need for change and the risk of not changing even if you don't have a finalized solution.

Communicating that you don't have all the answers and giving employees a date to expect answers is more effective than remaining silent. Proactive, early communications, even when you do not have all the answers, allows you to take control of the information circulating in the organization.

When enterprises embrace early communication as a core strategy, not just a project necessity, they reap benefits beyond successful change management. Employees are more informed, engaged, and empowered to drive positive outcomes.

When the project hits the go-live point, employees have the information they need to become involved in the solution. Conversely, starting communication late creates an uphill battle for the team, who must share the necessary information while dispelling misinformation and rumors.

3. Do it more often

"Don't hesitate to communicate often, just remember to utilize a variety of vehicles to spread your message effectively."
Michelle Haggerty, Chief Operating Officer and U.S. President, Prosci

When asked what they would do differently regarding communications, participants in the Prosci Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking research said they would communicate more, more often, to more people, and to all levels of their organizations.

Build understanding through repetition

The significance of frequency in communication lies in building understanding. The first time you communicate a message, employees may not hear or internalize what the business is trying to share. In many instances, the receiver of a communication message is concerned with the personal implications the first time they hear about a change. This orientation influences what parts of a message they take away. If a message is only communicated once, employees will never build the understanding intended. Key messages must be repeated. The Prosci Methodology recommends communicating key messages five to seven times to be effective.

Strike a balance to prevent information overload

Be sure to strike a delicate balance between frequency and information overload. Excessive messaging, even if well-intentioned, risks disengagement. Employees become overwhelmed and tune out when inundated with too much information too often.

Strategically plan communication frequency and content—repetition should reinforce core messages rather than overload people with extra details. The goal is to drive retention of critical points, not attempt to convey every minute aspect.

Use different mediums of communication

Communication around change is a process, not an event. It is not a single email, kickoff meeting, or video message broadcasted by the CEO on the intranet. 

The “how” of communication involves utilizing multiple mediums, such as newsletters, webinars and team meetings, to repeat and reinforce key messages consistently throughout the project lifecycle. If you're managing change, it's your job to ensure that the team communicates the right details to the right people, not just once but several times.

The post-pandemic era is witnessing a greater shift towards creating opportunities for open dialogue, Q&A sessions, and status-update webinars to address employee concerns.

Organizations employ various communication channels, such as company intranet hubs, electronic bulletin boards, emails, and webinars. Platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and internal social networks facilitate continuous messaging and updates.

A Prosci study shows that AI can significantly impact your enterprise communications.

 

Impact of AI on Change Management WorkImpact of AI on Change Management work

Communication plans must consider the audience's diverse needs, including different roles within the organization.

Establish a feedback loop

Ensure effective communication involves more than repetition—it requires a feedback loop. Feedback means gathering your team's thoughts and feelings about the changes. You can then use their input to improve how you explain the changes and train them, making it easier for everyone to get on board with the new way of doing things.

4. Answer the questions people have

"Employees want to know their concerns and worries have been taken into account and there are strategies in place to navigate the change in a way that considers their needs."
Michelle Haggerty, Chief Operating Officer and U.S. President, Prosci

Effective communication goes beyond sharing a message—it's an interactive and iterative process to build understanding.

In a well-structured plan, communication efforts should proactively address employees' questions in the order they want to hear the messages. The post-pandemic leader requires qualities like trustworthiness, empathy, genuineness, self-awareness, and a learning mindset.

Address the personal change questions employees might have

One major trap you should anticipate is for a communicator to talk only about what they care about and what they're concerned about. 

Address personal change questions

Senior leaders fall into this trap by communicating exclusively about vision and the future of the organization.

Project team members fall into this trap by communicating solely about the solution they have arrived at and the alternatives they evaluated.

This is not a fault. We want senior leaders to be concerned about the vision of the organization, and we want project team members to be concerned about their solution.

However, when it comes to communicating to employees, efforts should aim to answer the most pertinent questions the employees have about the change.

Several key questions need to be answered at the beginning of a change:

  • Why are we changing?
  • What are the risks of not changing?
  • What's in it for me?
  • How will I be impacted?
  • How will my team be impacted?

Note that the question, "What are the specific details of the change?" does not appear on the list. Communication plans must first address the questions at the forefront of what people care about before they move into the specific details of the change. 

Customize messages for every audience group

Recognize that different stakeholders have distinct concerns and priorities. Tailor your messages to resonate with each group. For example:

  • With senior managers: Emphasize how the change aligns with strategic goals and the overall vision.
  • With project team members: Highlight the solution's benefits and how it aligns with project goals.
  • With front-line employees: Focus on the personal impact, emphasizing benefits to their roles and the support available to them.

By shaping your messages to fit each group's needs, you make sure everyone understands and supports the change, which helps your project succeed faster.

Encourage open dialogue via several platforms

Make space for two-way communication, not just one-sided broadcasting. Create opportunities for open dialogue through town halls, feedback surveys, online forums, and live Q&A sessions. 

Encourage dialogue through multiple platforms

Diverse platforms encourage questions, input, and suggestions from employees at all levels. This fosters a culture of transparency where people feel heard, valued, and invested in shaping the change. Large-scale interactive forums play a key role in addressing the wide variety of concerns across the organization.

"As an organizational development professional, I often use Gallup's research to guide sponsors in preparing remarks. Gallup identifies four key needs followers have from their leaders: trust, compassion, stability and hope. In managing change, I help sponsors instill trust through openness and vulnerability, show compassion by empathizing with impacted employees—saying, 'Hey, you know, I've been in your shoes when we did an ERP implementation, and I was the financial analyst. I understand this is a rocky road.' They can tell a story to make a connection and show that. Ensure stability by conveying capable leadership and communicating hope for a positive future. Inspire the group to not get mired down in the struggles of the present but to also look ahead. It helps having a leader who shows the road ahead and how this change initiative is going to ultimately make the lives of the employees and the health of the company better. Trust, compassion, stability and hope. This intentional sponsor plan is a crucial part of our change management methodology."
—Margaret Smith, Principal Change Advisor

5. Use preferred senders

Consider employee communication preferences for how they receive information during times of change.  The Prosci Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking research consistently shows who the preferred senders are and the messages they should communicate.BPCM-12-Blog Images-PreferredSenders-Callouts

Deliver business-level messages by organization leaders

For business messages about the change, employees want to hear from someone at the top of the organization or their division. These business-level messages include why the change is happening, the risks of not changing, the customer or competitor issues causing the change, why the change is happening right now, how the economic climate played a role in the change, and the alignment of this change with the organization's vision and direction. When it comes to the business messages, the voice for change should be executives and senior leaders. Employees want to hear from someone at the top about these issues.

Deliver personal-change messages by supervisors

For personal change messages, employees want to hear from their immediate supervisor. Questions best answered by such people managers include:

  • What does this change mean to me?
  • What's in it for me? How will my team be impacted?
  • How will my day-to-day work be impacted?

This presents somewhat of a challenge because we must get managers and supervisors on board before they can become an effective communicator to others.

The "voice" of change matters. Even if the content of a message is exactly the same, employees will evaluate the sender of the message. Using preferred senders ensures that messages are received as intended and that the change is taken seriously.

Change Management Communication Is Evolving in the Post-pandemic Era

Communication strategies are adapting to the digital age and remote work environments. The landscape of preferred senders may continue to shift to reflect remote or hybrid models. There’s a heightened emphasis on thoughtful, transparent, and comprehensive communication plans.

The Prosci report Top Contributors to Change Success in a Post-Pandemic World is a great resource to help you understand how change management has evolved and how to communicate change effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of communication is needed for Change Management?

Through change management communications, stakeholders are educated, guided and supported during organizational change. One can do this by sending out consistent emails, conducting coaching and training sessions, and having in-person meetings.

A Communications Plan is one of the core change management plans recommended in the Prosci Methodology. An effective change management communications plan targets each stakeholder group impacted by the change and focuses on what they care about and need to know. A structured communication plan presents the right messages at the right time, in the right format, via the right channel, and from the right sender.

What are the communication objectives of Change Management?

Effective change management communications ensure that everyone is well-informed about the upcoming changes. It’s important to tailor these communications to each specific audience, address their concerns, and provide a clear understanding of why the change is happening. By strategically timing the messages and considering the content and sender, we can successfully navigate the change process and foster a smooth transition.

What’s the difference between Change Management and Change Communication?

Change management is a structured approach to implementing successful programs and initiatives within an organization. It involves creating detailed plans for big changes in a company—that includes getting everyone ready and aligned. Change communication is how we tell everyone about the plan and keep them informed.

Quality change management integrates strategic communication, ensuring the right information is delivered to the right people at the right time. But it’s important to note that while clear communication is crucial, it's just one aspect of executing change successfully.

This Change Management Checklist helps see if you’re taking a proactive, systematic, and thorough approach when managing change.

Change Management Communication
for Better Results

An effective communication strategy is vital to change management success. As discussed, strategies like structured plans, early messaging, repetition, answering questions, and preferred senders help employees understand and accept changes faster.

Communicating during change is not a single event that ends when you press "send." An intentional, structured plan with focused messages sent from the right people at the right time helps impacted employees understand and accept the changes faster while heading off problems—all while setting up your project and people for success. An intentional plan with focused messages from the right people at the right times sets up your project and people for success. 

Communication-checklist-for-change-management

Neely McHarris

Neely McHarris

Neely McHarris is a change practitioner, educator and DEI leader who supports a variety of client engagements, including enterprise resource planning and human capital management systems implementations. Leveraging the Prosci Methodology and ADKAR® Model, she coaches people and teams through changes, enabling them to break through barriers to adoption and transition successfully. Neely has a bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies, and master’s degrees in both theology and student affairs in higher education. She also holds a graduate certificate in organizational leadership and is a Conflicts Dynamics Profile (CDP®) certified facilitator.

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