Communicating Change

by Rus Slater

Best change practices

In 2002, Mercer Human Resource Consulting conducted research on behalf of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), surveying 12,000 professionals around the globe. They also surveyed a sampling of senior executives and executives from Fortune 200 companies to validate the results. People were asked to identify the single most important element that drives organisational change and the single worst thing an organisation could do in facilitating change.

One of the results of this survey was a consolidated list of the five best and five worst practices in change programmes, according to the 12,000 people surveyed. Let’s look at the best practices:

Top five best change practices

What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
  1. Effective communication
  2. Employee involvement or buy-in
  3. Leadership and commitment from senior management
  4. Evidence that management is living the change
  5. Explicit business imperative for change/market dynamics

Let’s look at that best practices list again.

  1. This is obviously a communication issue.
  2. Buy-in comes from being listened to as well as informed, so this is also a communication issue.
  3. Employees don’t know that senior management is committed unless they are told this is so.
  4. ‘Communication’ isn’t just what you say; it is also what you are seen to do...
  5. The inclusion of the word ‘explicit’ here makes this a communications issue.

So all five of the best change practices concern communicating successfully.


A company was going through a culture change programme that related to their management style (they wanted to go from ‘Coercion, Confrontation and Coexistence’ to ‘Cooperation, Collaboration and Coownership’). They didn’t explain it all to the staff before they started, because they didn’t want to appear to be going behind the backs of senior managers.

A particular manager, who we will call ‘Bob’, was a real dinosaur of the old autocratic school. Bob went on a three-day programme and returned to work enlightened to empowerment, listening and respect for his staff. Bob’s first action on the Monday morning after his ‘conversion’ was to ‘Tannoy’ an announcement around the building about how pleased he was to work with such a bunch of go-getting, intelligent, motivated people and how he was looking forward to working with them all in the coming week.

This was so out of character and unexpected that they all thought he was having a breakdown and everyone avoided him for nearly two days!