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Home » CEB Communications Blog, Change Management, Marketing & Communications » Why Your Change Communication Isn’t Working

Why Your Change Communication Isn’t Working

Adaptive OrganizationOrganizations operate in an increasingly uncertain environment.  With this often chaotic backdrop, Communications can play a powerful role in helping employees to positively react to changes and to ensure they contribute to company growth amid volatility.

Choosing the right communication style can have significant impact on employees’ ability to understand changes and adapt to them promptly.  The results of our recent survey of 2,000 employees  at large companies show that employees found an interactive (two-way sharing) communication style significantly more valuable in helping them adapt, compared to a directive, top-down (command and control) approach.

So, what’s your typical approach to communciating change?  An announcement from leadership, detailing the context and providing as much directive guidance as possible?

Looking at how employees perceive the value of such major announcements about change (usually coming from Communications), only 12.5% answered that they found a very directive, top-down communication style valuable in helping them adapt to change.  Compare that to the 87.5% of employees who prefer a highly or at least somewhat interactive communication style.  Which percentage would you rather be reaching with your corporate messaging?  (If you picked the second group, GOOD!)

However, there seems to be a large disconnect between the style employees respond to and the one they are being presented with.  Fifty six percent of employees in our survey described their corporate communications’ messaging style as “very directive” and as “discouraging idea sharing,” and only 5.7% described it as highly interactive.

What are the implications of all of this for Communications?

As the needs of the organization shift, Communications needs to evolve to help employees cope with changes better, faster, and more efficiently. In our 2011 major research initiative on adaptive organizations, we argue that Communications’ role is changing from being a top-down, hierarchical “message creator” to being a “communication enabler,” whose focus is on creating an open environment for employees to listen, share, and interact. Since employees tell us that an interactive communication style (aka dialogue) helps them adapt to changes better…which in turn helps them perform better… isn’t it worth listening to them and giving interactive communication style a try?  What’s stopping you?

Comments from the Network (5)

  1. Jo
    on February 23, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this. Given the need for timely communication for ‘changing’ organization, what forms of dialogue / interactive communication style can we look at? in person, virtual meetings..any other suggestions

  2. Marika Krausova
    on February 24, 2011

    Thank you for the question. I think that in person style can be most effective in fostering interaction but virtual meetings etc. are also useful. However, regardless of the type of communication media used, the thing that really matters, for sharing information with employees in an interactive manner, is connecting employees with people who are accessible to them, and who can take time to foster dialogue and address their concerns and questions (like their peers and direct supervisors).

    In one of our previous blogs (, Rick DeLisi discusses how managers play an important role in being this “interaction provides”.
    In addition, Communications don’t need to rely only on managers to help employees adapt to changes and most importantly buy into them. In other blog (, Vanessa North discusses how Communications can make the “grapevine” work for them, by supplying the ‘right’ people with information and letting them pass the information onto their networks, providing both quick spread of information and interactive way of doing it.

  3. Audrey Glenn
    on March 11, 2011

    Great discussion. Pertaining to Jo’s comment, may I add that corporate social media seems to be a growing communications vehicle?

  4. Valerie Ritchie
    on April 13, 2011

    Having rolled-out a prgram where we asked managers to facilitate a discussion (dialogue) rather than ‘telling’, the key to success was – proving though-provoking trigger questions for managers to ask, to stimuate discussion. Even though we wanted managers to listen – and guide discussion, raher than ‘respond with the answer’ – to give managers confidence on the subject matter, we did also need to give them background information on the sorts of things they might say to contribute to the discussion.

    Success, though, is limited by the communication competency of the mangers tasked with holding the dialogue. This is where a partnership with HR can help – they can upskill managers.

  5. Tracy Fox
    on February 23, 2012

    Hi there,

    Is the study you quote in this great article availabe to the public? i.e. “The results of our recent survey of 2,000 employees at large companies show that employees found an interactive (two-way sharing) communication style significantly more valuable in helping them adapt, compared to a directive, top-down (command and control) approach.”


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