by Karin Bonev

November 21, 2023

We recently hosted our last Brainfood for 2023, which focused on how to communicate change when you can’t say anything. Our experienced panelists shared their insight and lessons learned from helping organizations navigate seminal moments in time, including CEO and senior leadership transitions, restructuring and layoffs, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures and new business strategies. Below are five key takeaways for communicators who might encounter similar situations.

1. Invest in relationships

Change can be challenging, but when people trust each other, the situation becomes easier to navigate. Long-term trust is critical and it is built over time. Investing in important relationships with employees, customers, investors, communities, media now can make a significant difference when you announce a change later. Look for opportunities to connect and bring people together, learn more about each other and establish trusted relationships.

2. Plan carefully and intentionally

First, ensure that the team announcing and implementing the change is aligned on purpose, key stakeholders and message. Next, create a stakeholder map that lists your audiences, their current perceptions, the desired perceptions and behaviors and hurdles or challenges that might stand in the way to changing hearts and minds. Then prioritize which audiences are most critical and need extra attention and determine which leaders need to be connected to them. From there determine which channels will have greatest impact and develop a plan to effectively cascade information.

3. Develop a good message

Organizational changes can be inherently nuanced and complex, but complex stories are hard to understand and even harder to share. Make sure your narrative is simple, compelling and easily understood. It helps employees more readily understand the change. And it also enables employees to be better brand ambassadors and champions of change when engaging with external audiences.

4. Be visible even when you can’t communicate

There are moments in time when audiences will ask questions. They have a feeling a change is looming. If you are not able to communicate yet, there are steps you can take in the meantime. First, ensure leadership remains visible. Welcome the tough questions and be transparent in your response. Second, acknowledge the uncertainty and provide reassurance. Third, share what information you can and note that you will continue to communicate when the time is right. This is where Lesson #1 can make a meaningful difference.

5. Be ready for the pivot

Inevitably, there are “plot twists” in change. Build a strong communications roadmap, but be adaptable and ready to pivot if needed. It may help to brainstorm all the “what if” scenarios and develop backup plans. What if the email system crashes? What if the change is leaked to the media and you are forced to announce early? What if the CEO search is extended or the transaction takes longer to finalize?

Effective change communications can help organizations successfully navigate important moments in time. If you would like to talk more about how Dix & Eaton can help your organization with an upcoming change, send me an email and we will connect.

The Dix & Eaton team would like to thank our panelists for sharing their time, experience and expertise:

  • Kellee Murray-Morales, Vice President, Human Resources, Cargas
  • Cindi Szymanski, Director of Communications, Playhouse Square
  • Scott Chaikin, Chairman Emeritus, Dix & Eaton