How to Communicate Change without Producing Fear and Disruption

This week in HR, we continue discussing our themes of organizational growth and strategic planning.  Last week we talked about what a Staffing Plan looks like.  And we identified that there is change that accompanies initiatives related to staffing, from planning and shifting budgetary priorities to new talent acquisition methods.  These have big implications on the psyche of workers.  It can change job responsibilities, realign chains of command, and it can even be a harbinger for changing products that are responsive to market changes.  Change is scary, so communicating clearly and effectively to reduce dissatisfaction and even turnover should be prima facie.   

I have been through many Mergers & Acquisitions over 10 years in Legal Services and Technology.  At times there were multiple acquisitions in a year.  Ultimately, these are scary experiences that lead to determinations of redundancies, RIFs, and changed jobs, etc.  The fatal flaw in every instance, that could have been mitigated with proper planning was communication.  For your staffing plan, communication is especially key.  It is almost, if not assuredly, the most essential success factor. 

Communication requires particular attention in the design of a staffing plan. Often neglected, it is essential for the plan’s long-term success. Communication of the plan begins during the development of the specific tactics, continues as the plan is finalized, and is used to support the plan’s implementation. Ongoing encouragement and support are required because the tactics are implemented by and require the continuous insight and commitment of the affected departments. In addition, ongoing feedback from those implementing the plan is crucial to those responsible for developing and monitoring the staffing plan. 

Read on after the Communication Plan Table to read some cultural / employee engagement notes specific to how Managers manage employees.. 


Components of Communication Plan in Support of Staffing Plan 




Who requires information about the plan or its implementation for it to be successful by country and function? 


What specific outcomes are to be achieved through communication, and how will these ensure the success of the staffing plan? 


Exactly what information must be communicated to the various audiences? 

Who will provide the information? 

How does the required information vary by country? 


What type of communication will be most effective (e.g., face-to-face, formal announcements, training programs, frequent e-mail updates)? 

What variations in the communication mode are required for specific countries and cultures? 


What financial and nonfinancial resources must be committed to communications for the plan to be successful? 

Are these resources available in the required countries, or must headquarters provide them? 


What schedule is required to achieve the objectives of the communication plan? 


Who will actually develop and deliver the required communications? Who is accountable for the achievement of the goals of the communication plan at different levels? 

- SHRM Learning System 2019-2020 

The missing piece is culture.  Creating a culture that strategically works for you – literally works for you – takes some intentional action and management.  A staffing plan can be majorly threatening in a culture that is closed, where communication is not the ascendant value.  Intentionally creating a culture of trust and safety for employees has a lot to do with how managers tactically engage employees.  Engagement through fear or autocratic leadership is usually a short-term method that is only truly productive in crisis.  Otherwise, managers should aspire to communicate the following: 

  1. Connection between work and organizational strategy – this gives people meaning in their work. 
  1. Importance of job to organizational success – think NASA janitor who knew his work was instrumental to landing on the moon; he was happy and productive. 
  1. Understanding of how to complete work projects – this is about continuous feedback, where a manager regularly asks specific questions about employees’ work, and, importantly, facilitates employees’ work with resources, training, and tools. 

Try it for a week—think through the link between individual work assignments and org strategy.  When you encounter a task, what part of your organization’s value chain is directly impacted by that action?  Are you aware of what your organization’s strategy is?  And how does the action map over to the strategy?  These are powerful questions.  

Communicating a staffing plan is a lot like this strategy for creating meaning for your employees’ work.  It’s all about reminding people of the why and doing it in a way that makes sense to them for themselves. 

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