How to Affect Change When You Can't Share What's Coming

Human beings can get used to virtually anything, given plenty of time and no choice in the matter whatsoever.
— Tom Holt

There’s no question that some changes are better than others. While we rarely have the luxury of unlimited time at our disposal, humans always have the choice to adopt or not to adopt a given change. Adoption can be especially tricky when you can’t share details of the change that’s coming. To better align product creation and further clarify roles and responsibilities, a consumer product company needed support to organizationally restructure. Processes, technology, and staff needed to evolve into new ways of working and collaborating. Because the restructuring involved a large group of people and had significant downstream process implication, the decision was made to keep the project confidential and not release specific details about impacted groups or outcomes. Our team was tasked with managing the change, increasing adoption, and ensuring minimal business disruption during the transition. To execute this change effectively, our team worked on measures of success.  

3 measures of success are most useful in affecting change with little upfront detail: meaningful communication, trust-building to mitigate disruption, and enabling leaders for change. When communication lacks clarity and engagement is low, the results can be disastrous.

Ideal Change Management Path

Change Management Path Without Engagement

Developing meaningful communication is the first step in ensuring success. A significant focus placed on strategic communication ensures consistency and transparency. To create the most effective communication, it’s important to align outcomes to the larger company vision, attribute specific and individual benefits, and to create and execute a cascade plan. In our example, tailored change assessments and risk levels were taken by organization, department, and team to understand critical barriers that could prevent adoption. 

Building trust & mitigating disruption are both extremely important when there is a communication barrier. In the example, while employees couldn’t receive specific details of the change, managers were targeted as a key group to train and engage on project details and next steps. Trainings and toolkits were developed so the managers felt prepared to hold employee conversations, and receiving managers had the resources they needed to successfully integrate new team members into their organization. Even though the specific details couldn’t be shared, consistent communication helped to create trust. Communications and collaboration activities were meticulously planned for the day changes were to be announced to ensure a seamless transition from old to new roles. Surveys and ongoing risk assessments were completed to better understand employee assimilation and mitigate business risks.

Enabling leaders for change is a critical step in ensuring a smooth transition. When enabling leaders for change, the first step is to assess their readiness. If there are varying levels of knowledge, the inconsistency of understanding will cause confusion. Planning and determining integration points or key communication milestones also ensures consistency. Finally, creating a go-live toolkit can be extremely helpful for leaders to see their approach clearly and understand where they need to focus.

Confidential projects add challenges for ensuring stakeholder engagement and understanding but delivering training and detailed support to critical project partners enables consistent communication and messaging within a tight timeline.

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