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Internal communications during times of change

All organisations undergo periods of change but local government often experiences this more than most. With so much change in the past, and more on the horizon, how do you communicate with your employees so they are informed, interested and engaged in the process?

Our top tips

Understand how people respond to change

Appreciating how people respond to change and the different reactions that people can have to it can be a huge asset when it comes to communicating with your employees. While some may be excited or relieved about new ways of working, others may feel vulnerable, confused, angry and resistant. These are all valid reactions and it is important that any messages you craft or decisions you make account for these varying emotions. Employees may also move through some of these different emotions at different rates, so make sure you also account for some parts of your organisation responding to your announcements at different times. Try to ensure that colleagues also involved in communicating change across the organisation, including line managers and senior leaders, also understand the principles of change so that you can support your staff consistently. The institute of internal communications offers training courses to help improve your understanding of the how employees respond to change.

Communicate early…

While crises can often appear from nowhere, change projects often have a longer lead time. Communicating with employees as early as possible can help you to manage the message before the rumour mill has the chance to start churning, and helps to position the organisation as in control of the situation. While you may not be able to answer many questions at the start, outlining the broad issue can help to reassure staff. Be careful not to make statements that you might not be able to maintain, for example, assurances about job security or responsibilities which may change at a later date.

…and often

Effective change communications work best when information and updates are regularly communicated. This helps avoid employees filling the void in news with their own speculation, but also helps to keep your staff reassured that work is still ongoing. In environments where there has been lots of historic change, or plans for change that have never materialised, employees can easily become disengaged with the process, so make sure that you are sharing information often. It is just as important to communicate when there is no change as it is when there is a lot to say. Silence can be particularly unnerving for employees.

Involve staff as much as possible

Find opportunities for staff to play an active part in your change programme rather than being the recipients of your information only. If appropriate, consider running focus groups to help them assist with identifying the issues that need to be factored into your change planning, or encourage them to send suggestions about ways that issues could be resolved. Change should not only be about broadcasting what is happening to employees, it should also make them a part of the process. Read how Cheshire West and Chester Council achieved this during their recent estate change programme.

Honesty is the best policy

If you do not know the answer to a question or issue raised by an employee during a change programme do not be tempted to make it up to appease people. Inaccurate information, or answers that change, damage the credibility of your organisation and can have a serious impact on the trust that staff are placing in you and your leaders. It is ok to say you do not have all the answers.

It is equally important that when you do know the answer you provide it in an open, honest and transparent way. Do not mislead your employees or use jargon as a way of trying to talk around the truth of the issue. Your employees are bright people, and the core of your organisation, so it’s important to treat them fairly and with respect when you are answering questions that might impact on their lives.

Consider bespoke communications channels

Using a range of communication channels can be an effective way of connecting with all of your employees but it is worth considering developing a dedicated change communication channel when employees can find all the information they need about the change programme. This not only reduces the risk that employees will miss important information about your changes, it also allows you to use your other channels to communicate your business as usual messages, or initiatives that are not associated with your change activity. Make sure you actively promote your bespoke change channel across all your communication platforms.

Face-to-face for difficult messages

When it comes to difficult messages about topics like job security, voluntary redundancy or changes to terms and conditions, there is no substitute for face-to-face communication. Although it may be difficult, your employees need to see a human face behind these more challenging messages.

Work closely with change colleagues

Change programmes, particularly large scale ones, can involve colleagues from across your whole organisation, so it is important that you are in regular discussion with all aspects of the change programme. Not only will this help identify messages that need to be communicated, which others might not have thought of, it also helps you to get a broader sense of the issues that are causing employees concern. While you may be worrying about how employees will adapt to a new vision or leadership, they may be more concerned about changes to parking arrangements or working hours. Talk to colleagues across the project to make sure you have sight of everything.