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Communicating change

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Renea Morris

Renea Morris

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I remember hearing the phrase, “change is constant,” when I was fairly young in my career. It was always inferred that this was something unavoidable but not necessarily something I should look forward to embracing. That didn’t sit well with me. In fact, initially, I didn’t take it seriously. I’m not sure if I didn’t really believe it or if I thought I was so adaptable that I could turn this “necessary evil” into something positive. Perhaps I thought I was immune to the effect “change” might have on me. Growing up in an extended family, sometimes living with four generations under one roof (with one bathroom), I learned how to accept change. Being a communications and marketing professional for my entire career enabled me to develop into a leader, and over time, I came to the conclusion that change really is the only constant. And yet, having had the opportunity more times than I can count to communicate change under the umbrella of this certainty has shown me that change doesn’t have to equate to consternation.

The University of Denver is experiencing what feels like constant change, whether it is with people—there are currently two interim leaders on the chancellor’s cabinet and the majority of the others have been with DU for three years or less—or policy, such as the forthcoming transition (a softer way to say change) to Cigna for healthcare.

After years of communicating change, I’ve discovered that transparency and preparation are key. Said simply, transparency in communications is sharing information in a way that others can easily see it. For instance, before the University’s announcement about its most recent change (healthcare provider), answers to commonly asked questions were prepared and mechanisms had been developed to solicit more questions, in this case an online form and online forums. These elements launched in tandem with the email communications.

In addition to transparency and preparation, there are a few other considerations when communicating change:

Where there is uncertainty, there is discomfort. If information flow is slow, the void that is left will be filled. Usually it is filled with rumor, conjecture, or untruths. More is more with communication. Create a cadence of communications to decrease reliance on unreliable communication networks and channels.

Implementing predictable methods of communication helps to mitigate confusion by helping your audience understand what to expect and giving them a common place to look for more information. The Transition to Cigna website is the foremost place for employees to find updates and information about this change. In addition, information is reiterated through email or The Bridge, and a series of town halls have been scheduled between now and the end of Open Enrollment. You need to make repeated impressions to build a reputation or effectively communicate a change.

Being able to give direction on how to respond enables your audience to answer two critical questions—What are you saying to me? What do I need to do? Clarity builds confidence and helps turn an idea into reality.

When communicating change within an organization, be sure to consider how others perceive what you say (transparency), how often you say it (frequency), the way you say it (consistency), and whether they understand you (clarity). This will help ensure you will be able to communicate change in ways that resonate. I’ve always believed that I can deal with what I know, as can most. Thus, it becomes our duty to bring people into the know, enabling them to make sound decisions as they move forward.