Gary GruberChange Leadership Learning for LeadersCHANGE COMMUNICATION: CASE IN POINT
April 27 , 2019 /


When the #Change Blog Challenge appeared on my Twitter feed, my response was why not? Change has been a theme for much of my work for some 50 years.  The topic for this quarter is “Change Communication” and what can be more important than the way we communicate change whether helping others understand and apply the dynamics of change or responding to change that was not planned or anticipated?

From my perspective there are two kinds of change, planned and unplanned and when you search my blog you will see I have written about change numerous times. My take on change is explained on a page on my web site under “Transition Consulting.”  To save you the trouble of looking it up here it is:

There are two kinds of change, planned and unplanned. While the former is more desirable, it’s not always possible. When planned change can be anticipated there are specific steps to take to insure the most effective and successful change is implemented. When change that is precipitated by external factors is not anticipated, the response to the experience may need additional support and guidance in order to embrace change in the best possible way. In addition to crisis management, there are numerous other responses available.

Your change may seem similar to that of  other people but each person and each organization is unique because each has a different history, varying personalities, and specific cultures. Therefore, your approach needs to be unique to you and your situation.”

Communicating change has numerous components to be sure that the communication is both clear and compelling.  I learned a technique from a former client, a process that I have recommended often to others who found themselves in a position where a transition needed to be communicated to several constituencies simultaneously. We have seen similar communications from companies who found themselves in a situation that required a response or where there was a need to make an announcement of a change.

Here is a brief description of a case with names omitted for obvious reasons.  A board chairman was told that his CEO had been arrested for engaging in illegal trading and there was an emergency meeting of the Board to decide next steps for the company.  The following plan was communicated to four different constituencies and announced publicly.

First, the company, under the board chair’s signature would communicate exactly what happened, that the CEO was arrested and plead guilty. Secondly, they would assure people that the CEO had not involved the company and that his activities had all been privately executed through other channels and not through the company.  Third, the CEO was terminated immediately and replaced with the COO until such time that a successor could be determined.  Fourth, the board chair made it clear that the company would continue to serve its customers with the same high standards and quality products that the public had come to expect. Finally, the chair thanked the employees of the company and the customers for their continuing support.

The design of the communication was: 1- Tell the truth, exactly what happened, i.e. be transparent.   2 – Outline what the company was going to do in terms of next steps.  3- Tell people what was expected from them and what they could expect during this time of transition.  4- Invite people to ask any questions that were not addressed in the communications. 5- Make sure there was basically one person who was the spokesperson for the company during this critical time.

The results following this crisis were rather positive.  The company did not miss a beat and survived the embarrassment. The communication had some unexpected and surprising outcomes. Business actually increased as people realized the company was steering a steady course through a difficult situation.  The company demonstrated that their values remained intact, values that included trust in their employees, teamwork, strong relationships with customers and thoughtful innovation.

The brilliance of the chairman of the board was to be sure that the company would manage this situation honestly and would not be managed by it.  He took control and with support from many sources weathered the somewhat traumatic news and events skillfully and successfully.  The change communication both internally and externally was a key component in this series of events.



Comments (2)

  1. Gary,

    That’s a great example of PR and the role it can play in change communications (must in some cases like the one you’ve outlined.). Out of college I was hired by a large management consulting firm into the change management division. We were focused on facilitating organizational change whether it was due to process, technology or organizational issues and transformation. A few of my early assignments were in the communications area. We forget that communication is not a one time event – especially when it comes to change. It also has to be delivered a little bit like a waterfall instead of on a single blast. Appreciate that you’ve outlined that communications aren’t an optional part of change management but critical and need to be well planned and executed.

    Your point number four is also one that’s too often overlooked. Especially in times of change, we don’t want to be deaf but instead open a dialog. What questions do you have and how can we work to address them?


    1. Thanks for tbis: “communication is not a one time event – especially when it comes to change. It also has to be delivered a little bit like a waterfall instead of on a single blast” AND be sure to keep it flowing. This is true whether in organizations or in relationships. When there has been a steady stream of communication and that’s the norm, then people are more likely to receive the news about change as a “normal” part of the practice even when the events are unexpected.

Please share your thoughts and opinions