Change Overload is Causing People to Resist New Ways of Working

I’ve spoken with people at organizations lately about rolling out large-scale workplace transformations in the coming months. Their employees have all recently returned to the office after two years of remote work and it’s a big (and sometimes stressful) adjustment for most.

So I knew that launching a new communications campaign about additional workplace changes would instinctively be met with resistance.

This got me thinking about ways to assess ‘communications readiness’ — or the point at which people are most receptive to new messages about change. Readiness assessments are regularly conducted to ensure a new technology system is ready for deployment, so I wondered if something similar could be done before launching a change communications campaign.

I came up with the following list of questions to help determine WHEN people might be ready to hear about a new workplace transformation:

1. How many — and what types — of changes are people being asked to make?

This one seems obvious but some organizations don’t count the transition from remote to office-based work — and others simply don’t have visibility on the total number of changes taking place across different departments or functions.

People are less resistant — and better at adapting — when they can focus on getting a few things right instead of making multiple changes all at once.

Identifying the different types of changes across an organization by target audience AND assigning an impact rating on the way people work day-to-day, can provide decision-makers with better insights on when people are ready to engage with a new communications campaign.

2. What do current ‘trust’ scores look like?

People sentiment scores are a great way to track how employees FEEL about the workplace — but understanding who people TRUST to deliver important messages is just as important when it comes to communications.

Generating trust scores for leadership and identifying team influencers with high credibility ratings is crucial for an effective communications campaign. Crafting the right messaging is important but if people don’t believe what you’re saying, no amount of ‘word-smithing’ can save you!

3. What types of change support resources already exist?

People are hesitant to change without support. Which is why simply hearing about new ways of working sometimes isn’t enough to sustain lasting change.

One of the most common support resources during a large-scale workplace transformation is a change champion network — but it’s also important to have existing opportunities in place well before any major change announcement. This includes everything from employee peer support groups on platforms like Workplace, Yammer or Slack to skill-building and leadership coaching workshops.

If your organization doesn’t have ANY trusted or popular support resources already in place, you’ll need to consider if people feel supported enough to act on new messages about change.

4. Are there any information gaps that need to be filled in?

Assuming that everyone at your organization has the same baseline knowledge about how you operate is one of the BIGGEST mistakes a change communications campaign can make.

Your messaging needs to take people on a change journey — and if everyone has a different starting point, it will be difficult to get all of your target audiences to the desired ending.

Sometimes the starting point in your change narrative requires an educational message or resource (like a customer or employee journey map) that fills in information gaps to ensure everyone is on the same page BEFORE you talk about new ways of working.

5. What are the opportunities for two-way feedback?

Two-way feedback is an important part of any successful change communications campaign — it continually uncovers pain points that need to be solved for people to develop new habits.

It’s important to have existing two-way feedback channels in place well before any announcement so you have insight into which ones work best. For example, do people feel comfortable talking with their managers or do they prefer a virtual Q&A session with opportunities for anonymous questions?

These types of forums are great listening opportunities — and can help identify the types of messages people might positively (and negatively) respond to before you launch your next change communications campaign.

Rebecca is a change communications innovator, design-thinking advocate and Fulbright Scholar who’s worked across digital, organizational design and compliance workplace transformation programs. She spent the past year trying to solve a billion-dollar business problem (the annual economic cost when 70% of workplace transformations fail) by identifying change communications best practice and translating it into a series of implementation plans, playbooks and templates.

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I help people and businesses transform how they work. Change communications consultant, former Fulbright Scholar to Australia and design-thinking advocate.

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Rebecca Cressman

Rebecca Cressman

I help people and businesses transform how they work. Change communications consultant, former Fulbright Scholar to Australia and design-thinking advocate.