14 Frequently Asked Questions for Preparing Leaders to Communicate Change


David Pitre President at Davis & Company

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Communicating change across the business is tricky. If done wrong, it can cause chaos and prove damaging. So how do you prep a leader to tackle this challenge effectively?

Article 5 Minutes
14 Frequently Asked Questions for Preparing Leaders to Communicate Change

While many leaders understand the importance of employee communication, they require extra support when it comes to communicating change. That’s where you come in. Your role is to coach leaders, help them understand what’s expected of them and give them what they need to be successful.

But, before you can get started, it’s important that you have all the answers. Here are 14 questions on how to tackle change:

1. Why is it important for leaders to be visible during change?

If leaders decide to hide out and don’t interact with employees, then it’s easy for employees to think the change isn’t important. In fact, a lot of employees make sure leaders support the change before they get on board.

2. What is the key role leaders play in communicating change?

When change occurs, leaders need to provide a high level overview of why the change is occurring and what it means to employees.

3. What is the biggest mistake leaders make?

They stop communicating about the change before employees have a chance to learn more about it. Leaders need to keep explaining and answering questions so employees can internalize the change.

4. How can I convince leaders to be more visible?

Leaders are data driven so it’s important to use evidence from employee research to make your case. For example, use focus group results, metrics from a microsite or survey results to measure the effectiveness of communication—and show how employees seek more communication.

5. What is the first thing I should do to prepare my leader to communicate?

Create a plan to outline what you’re trying to achieve. Be sure to include objectives, strategies, tactics and a timeline. This will help you create a foundation for your conversation with leaders and keep them focused.

6. What else do I need to do?

Provide leaders with tools, such as key messages or frequently asked questions, so they’re ready to share information.

7. What shouldn’t I do?

You shouldn’t expect leaders to follow a script. Leaders tend to have strong opinions and like to make things their own. Instead, focus on providing guidance and expertise to help leaders feel prepared.

8. My leader wants to write a blog. Is that a good idea?

Blogs tend to be very formal and often take a long time to draft and approve. Instead, persuade your leader to create a microblog that provides quick observations (100 words or so).

9. Our organization is global. How can I help leaders be visible despite the constraints of time and distance?

Start by evaluating what leaders are already doing. For example, if a leader is traveling to a location for meetings, see if the leader can spare an hour to host a coffee chat or manager roundtable. Then capture content from the sessions—such as PowerPoint slides, questions and answers—to create microblog posts, an interview article or a slideshow.

10. My leader feels they need to have all the answers. How can I coach them to communicate even before everything is known?

Use this opportunity to educate them on how change occurs and share best practices which demonstrate that employees seek content from leaders during change even if the answers are unknown. This will help them feel comfortable with saying, “We don’t know.”

11. We’re so formal! How can I encourage leaders to be more authentic?

It’s easier for leaders to loosen up when they’re in less formal settings. For example, instead of writing a blog, try creating a 25–50 word post or microblog to share a quick update. Or change the format of an upcoming town hall to include a poll and have leaders respond to it.

12. Is a town hall an effective way to communicate change?

If you’re planning to have a leader introduce a change or report progress, then a town hall is an effective way to communicate. However, if you’re looking to share details, then it’s best to use other channels. For example, after providing a high level overview at the town hall, direct employees to a microsite for more information.

13. My leader is not comfortable in front of a big group. How can I set them up for success?

It’s best to emphasize the leader’s strengths by putting them in positions where they can be successful. For example, to keep them out of the spotlight, introduce other leaders to join the presentation or make the session more interactive.

The more comfortable the leader is, the more successful they’ll be. For example, if your leader doesn’t enjoy standing alone in the spotlight, create a talk show format in which the leader can host other guests. If the leader is more comfortable in small group settings, schedule a series of coffee chats. And if the leader gets stage fright on video, try an audio podcast.

14. Employees are reluctant to ask questions during Q&A sessions. What do we do?

Instead of putting employees on the spot, look at the format. For example, use a polling platform to ask employees questions and stimulate leader responses. Or, have leaders pose a question. For example, a leader might say “We’re implementing this change to try and get better at customer service. What ideas do you have to make this a success?” This is a great way to create dialogue—and it can encourage employees to ask questions during the discussion.

David Pitre

David Pitre leads Davis & Company’s consulting team, which provides clients with support in employee communication and change management. Since joining the firm in 2005, David has helped leading organizations—such as BlackRock, Dun & Bradstreet, New York Public Library, PepsiCo and The Rockefeller Foundation—reach, engage and motivate their employees. As the firm’s measurement practice leader, he developed Davis & Company’s communication effectiveness model that helps clients demonstrate the value of their work.

An experienced speaker on communication issues, David has conducted workshops for The Conference Board, the International Association of Business Communicators, Society for Human Resource Management and the Institute of Communications and Advertising. He holds a bachelor’s degree in instructional media from Ryerson University (Toronto) and an MBA in design management from the University of Westminster (UK).


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