Do’s and don’ts of executive change communications


The one thing that all change management methodologies can agree on is that the most critical factor to transformation success is effective, visible leadership.

This is true in our experience – clients who have the most measurable success with large-scale organizational change are those with strong, courageous and unwavering executive leadership.

What’s less evident is how, in practice, a leader can be an effective champion for change. In addition to having to make the tough decisions and deal with the inevitable conflicts, the most significant responsibility the executive has is to communicate.

There are particular techniques required to mastering change communication – the highlights are presented here in an easy-to-use set of “do’s and don’ts”:

  1. Start with the “why” behind the change. Position the reason for the change as a “felt need”, appealing not only at an intellectual level, but also on an emotional one plane. DON’T avoid communicating because all of the information about the transformation is not yet clear. If you can’t share content, provide your employees with context.
  2. Keep in mind the golden rule: not communicating nothing, is communicating something. Fill the void with consistent, open, two-way communications. DON’T assume that just because you’ve sent an email, you’ve communicated. Executives tend to under-communicate in a time of change by a factor of 8-10.
  3. Consider how you can communicate your change not just through words, but also through symbols and behaviours. Consider activities that appeal at the emotional, experiential level. DON’T underestimate trust. It is the currency of change and a vital asset. Treat it carefully  taking care to communicate in an authentic, open and transparent fashion. Trust takes time to build, but can be shattered in seconds, which can be highly erosive to positive change.
  4. Remember that conversation is the smallest unit of change. Make a point of reaching out and having informal dialogue with your team. DON’T Forget that while you’ve been in dozens of meetings about the change, but your rank and file employees haven’t. They will need time to digest and process the information that may have been crystal clear to you a long time ago.
  5. Manage your energy, not just your time. Leading change is excruciatingly draining – make a point of recharging so that you can effectively model behaviours and demonstrate positive energy. DON’T fall into the trap of the Curse of Knowledge.
  6. Maintain a steady drumbeat of communication. Regular, predictable communication from a change leader is a reassuring touch point for employees. DON’T Allow mis-alignment or mis-communication among your management team. Make a solid investment in communicating with your management team, and coaching them to be allies in your change.
  7. Provide employees with line of sight. Connect the  dots for them between your big-picture change, and what it means for their day-to-day reality. DON’T fight with culture. When there is a conflict between a change and a culture, the culture always wins. Find a way to integrate your transformation into it.
  8. Leverage social capital. Tap into social networks to help create shared meaning and alignment around the change. DON’T assume that you have a read on what employees are feeling. In a hierarchical organization, it’s unlikely that the senior executive has the full picture on what employees are really feeling. Consider a quick “Pulse Check” survey to get a sense of where employees are at.
  9. Celebrate success. Positive and public feedback from leaders is a powerful cue to employees. Make a point of showcasing examples of behaviours and decisions that demonstrate alignment with the transformation. DON’T rush to eliminate or confront resistance. You will have much more success by focusing on uncovering resistance so that you can then deal with it openly and constructively.
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