Management's Guide to Communicating Change
by Edward Pfahl

When an organization embarks on any new project, or simply attempts to change established processes or procedures, inevitably it will encounter resistance from individuals as well as formal groups. This opposition appears almost immediately, drawing on the individual or group's fear of doing something different. Resistance ignores the responsibility by the individual or group to take the time to understand the reasoning or need for the change. But when the reasoning for the project is not made available to individuals and groups, then a "knee jerk" reaction to protect agendas and self interests' takes place. Interestingly enough, resistance is a normal, not an abnormal reaction by human beings. Defensiveness is the counter productive idea.

What is important to recognize is "who" has the authority of control and who is suggesting change? The power of control drives strategies for change. These strategies are developed based on values, principles, economic need and a whole host of other ideas by those in authority. But make no mistake, new projects or change strategies are founded on the premise of having power and the desire to achieve.

The "Something You Have" component of the process means management has been entrusted with the power to manage, lead and implement. The "Something You Know" component relates to managements development or assigned strategy to initiate change or create change based on needs. Even greater than this is management's responsibility for implementation and success.

Creating new initiatives and effecting change can not be viewed only as the responsibility of management, namely, senior management. Mid-managers and individual department or unit supervisors also have that responsibility. Keep in mind that even at the lowest level of management resistance is encountered even for the smallest of changes.

So how does a manager assure that the strategies and plans have an opportunity for success? One important piece of the puzzle is in putting together a communication/marketing effort that will do the following five things.

  1. Present the right message

  2. Present it to the right people

  3. Present it at the right time

  4. Present it using the right media (method of delivery)

  5. Present it with the right person (who delivers the message)

Now this may sound simple, but it takes a commitment of time to create a communication strategy plus a plan of action to make the "change" initiative work. In short, the goal should be to get people who normally would resist change to join in the plan to assure success of the change initiative. This is frequently where mangers fail to see the benefits of a communication strategy and frequently experience failure.

Another way to look at this is from the viewpoint of the people affected by the change initiative. It is generally accepted that no one really likes to be told to do something. It just rubs people the wrong way to have someone say "here, do this". That is why communication is so very important in any change endeavor.

Communication strategies and plans offer people most affected by the change the opportunity to hear, see, learn, question and provide in-put. In others words, they are involved and feel part of the process change and success, rather than just "being told" to do something.

1. Presenting the Right Message

Right from the start, a project has to be clearly defined and understood by the manager. If a manager is not sure of all aspects of the change, why would anyone expect employees to join in acceptance? Once a clear vision of the change has been established, then identification of the different items of detail must be documented and communicated. Again, although this may sound simple, identifying specifics is not an easy task and it will take time and effort.

The messages that will need to be delivered throughout the implementation of the project must be mapped to a project's timeline. The messages can be categorized as follows.

  • Vision and Benefits - messages that explain the reasoning for the initiative and exactly what are the identified benefits for all of this effort by both management and employee.

  • Education - identified key members who must be educated in the capabilities to support implementation.

  • Changes to Process - addressing identified changes to existing organizational processes and procedures. This may require policy and procedure revisions.

  • Milestones Achieved - Continuous announcements of project successes corresponding to implementation objectives.

  • Training - Identification and scheduling of process task change details, new technical requirements and company expectations.

  • Impacts to End-users - Management's identification and actions of correction to current processes and procedures. This includes key "impacts" to the organization as they become known. Not only must these impacts be identified, but clear action plans to mitigate the impacts must be identified, implemented and checked for compliance.

2. Presenting it to the Right People

Presenting the initiative to the right people, challenges management to identify the specific groups who will be directly or indirectly affected by the change. Defining these groups aids in the timing of when information will be communicated to each group in order that a logical sequence of implementation events can take place.

Key categories of "right "groups of people are:

· Board members
· Senior level management
· Directors
· Middle managers
· Supervisors
· Leads
· Union Representatives
· End-users (union and non union members)
· Outside Vendors
· Government officials
· General public

3. Presenting Information at the Right Time

Critical to success is the identification of when identified messages should go out in conjunction with the scheduled deployment of the change or initiative. It does no one any good to speak of specific training times and dates in January when the initiative is not scheduled to be finalized until November. However, A specific topic can be presented at a high level and supported with terms like " more precious detail on training dates and times will be communicated in September" to provide a timeline to the initiative.

4. Presenting Information Using the Right Media

Equally important is choosing the right way to communicate the messages to the employees. Here management must understand if the organization communicates better by e-mails, large group meetings, small group meetings, one-on-ones, newsletters, rallies etc.

In most cases it will take a combination of some or all of these to effectively communicate messages. In most organizations, these types of media can be ranked or prioritized fairly easily by management based on previous exposure to past successes and failures. Another resource for determining the most efficient means of communication can come from an organizations marketing department.

5. Present Messages using the Right Person

Credibility is the key. The source of the message or information plays a critical role in whether employees accept quickly the change initiative or procrastinate based on who is communicating the information.

Normally, major initiatives with sweeping or broad changes demands that senior management layout the reasons for and the benefits of the initiative. This needs to be followed by support from middle management.

Initiatives of a smaller scale and directly impacted small segments of employees, demand that the leader/manager closest to the end-user communicate information that directly to the affected end-users.


Managing Change is not an easy task and a strong communication effort is just one of many aspects of change management. However, putting together a communication strategy and plan is extremely important in providing the opportunity to be successful.

Change is a process and communications along with other change management plans are designed to achieve specific outcomes for any business. Success depends on management's ability to induce acceptance by communicating to employees the following desired outcomes.


  • Awareness of the need for change

  • Desire to participate /support the change

  • Knowledge on how to change

  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors

  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

Managers/Leaders have an obligation based on their position (Something you have); to inform and promote support from the people they lead. Communicating the need and the benefits of change (Something you know) is a responsibility that must not be avoided, but aggressively pursued.

*- ADKARŪ is a registered trademark of Prosci Research

Edward Pfahl has been engaged in change management, strategic thinking, process enhancements and risk mitigation for over 30 years. Utilizing principles of strategic planning, his efforts concentrate on action plan development, execution and results tracking. His history includes work with Fortune 500 companies including Caterpillar, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard and Bausch & Lomb. His article "Enterprise Education and Change Management" was published in the July 2003 edition of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Mr. Pfahl has presented to business organizations, various Chambers of Commerce's and to university students. A past president of a United Way organization in Cleveland, Mr. Pfahl has also held political office, is a Viet Nam Veteran and continues to be engaged in a variety of community endeavors.

Many more articles in Leading Change in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2005 by Edward Pfahl . All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading