Communicating to employees in times of technological change

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

What type of internal communication do employees want? The answer is: not always what they are given. So found marketing executive Charlotte Wallis when she picked this theme for her CIPR Internal Communication Diploma project.  Over to Charlotte to explain more….

“My paper focused on how effective internal communication can facilitate successful technological change. Technological change is one of the biggest challenges faced by organisations. It involves transformation at the organisational and individual level and requires individuals to alter their behaviour [1]. Yet 70% of all change projects fail[2] and academics cite poor internal communication as a contributing factor[3]. However research into employee preferences for channels and content can address this problem by ensuring communications meet employees’ needs[4]. Nevertheless I discovered that little research exists in this area, particularly with regards to content[5]. Hence, my project explored two key questions: what content do employees want to receive and how do they want to receive it when faced with technological upheaval?

To answer these questions I carried out quantitative research, as it reveals what people think within an organisation and how many people think it[6]. To increase the likelihood of a high response rate I designed a questionnaire appropriately. I used an attitudinal summated scale (Likert) to facilitate ease of participation; piloted it with a small group to ensure the length and language were appropriate, and included a covering email to explain how the data would be used to benefit respondents. This was an attempt to address the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor which can also increase the response rate[7]. The questions were based on the recurring communication themes that Paul Harrison identified in his chapter on change communication in Kevin Ruck’s book Exploring Internal Communication.

The results were interesting; they highlighted a disparity between the employees’ wishes and what content they usually receive. Employees wanted to hear about the impact of the change on the individual rather than on the organisation. Yet over a quarter of respondents felt that they seldom or never received communication about this. Arguably more emphasis needs to be placed on communicating themes about the individual to ensure employees are well informed about how they will be affected. The themes that scored the lowest in importance included: the opportunities for training on the new system and where employees can access further information about the proposed change. When preparing for technological change, employees may be less concerned about opportunities for training on a system that has not been implemented yet. Regarding receiving further information, staff did not rate this highly either. This could show a lack of engagement with it. Or perhaps respondents could not identify a technological development they would want to hear more about.

The study also looked at the use of channels and how employees preferred to hear about key messages. Generally the results supported the use of lean media for building understanding and awareness for change. However more than half the respondents also wanted face-to-face communication. Overall the findings showed that employees favour a mixture of rich and lean media when learning about change: Rich media that facilitates two-way, interactive engagement with an authoritative source and less interactive, lean media such as one-way email communications. Proctor and Doukakis[8] endorse the use of open communication channels for effecting change. As they point out, two-way communication allows change leaders to assess opinions and attitudes early on and identify potential sources of resistance that can then be addressed.

The findings provide further insight into an under-researched area of internal communications and change management. Unsurprisingly, respondents want information about change to focus on the individual rather than the organisation and they want to hear about it through different mediums.  If this study is representative of wider practice the disparity between employees’ needs and what information they actually receive could be a further reason why change is often resisted. The results highlight the importance of understanding employees’ communication preferences before embarking on a change project.  So, these findings will help transformation leaders to design and disseminate more effective future change communications. “

Learn more……

[1] Law, S. (2009). Learning from employee communication during technological change. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21(5) pp. 384 – 397

[2] Salem, P. (2008). The Seven Reasons Organizations Do Not Change, Corporate Communications, 13(3), pp. 333 – 348

[3] Quirke, B. (2008). Making the Connections. 2nd ed. Surrey: Gower. Johansson, C. and Heide, M. (2008). Speaking of change: three communication approaches in studies of organisational change. Corporate Communication: An International Journal, 13(3), pp. 288 – 305

[4] Welch, M. and Jackson, P. (2007). Re-thinking internal communication: A stakeholder approach. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 12(2), pp. 177–198

[5] Harrison, P. (2015). Communicating Change. In Ruck, K. (ed). Exploring Internal Communication. 3rd ed. UK: Gower. pp. 57 – 64

[6] Quirke, B. (2008). Making the Connections. 2nd ed. Surrey: Gower. P347.

[7] Clampitt P.G. (2009). The questionnaire approach. In Hargie, O. and Tourish, D. (eds). Auditing Organisational Communication, London: Routledge, 55–77

[8] Proctor, T. and Doukakis, I. (2003). Change management: The role of internal communication and employee development. Corporate Communication: An International Journal, 8(4), pp. 268 – 277