The fine art of communication in times of change

The fine art of communication in times of change

How manufacturing leaders can best communicate with the organization to drive successful implementation of change

Patricia Hume
July 21, 2023

At Canvas we help manufacturing companies implement some pretty significant changes in their operations. In our case we're focused on upgrading product content, training material to interactive digital instructional experiences; upgrades which can have far-reaching impact, from the shop floor to the field. Change of this magnitude is not easy to execute and is seldom without friction and resistance - some of it process-related, and some of it people-related.

If resistance is coming from your team, however, the chances are this has less to do with the changes you want to implement and more to do with the way you’ve communicated them.

Communication in a time of change is a fine art. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about it which may help smooth transitions, lower anxiety, generate buy-in and foster faster adoption rates among the people affected by something new.

Transparency is key

Be transparent with people about the business or process problem you’re trying to address, what you hope the change will achieve and why you think it’s a good idea. In Canvas' experience, for example, customers aren't changing the way they do documentation for the sake of it; they're typically advancing their processes to support a wider strategic or tactical initiative.

The more context you can give the team about the planned change and its expected implications, the better. Start with a clear, comprehensive explanation of the problem you’re trying to solve, then frame the coming change as part or all of the proposed solution. Be open about any concerns you yourself might have about implementing the change, engage with any objections, and make sure to be clear you’re open to feedback.

Collaborate, don’t dictate

The earlier you can bring your team in on the process, the better. People are much more likely to buy in if they feel they’ve been adequately consulted. This isn’t just a diplomatic measure – your team has boots on the ground, and it’s likely they know a lot more than you do about what works and what doesn’t. Actively asking for input acknowledges this, and also leads to more seamless implementation. Studies prove that while factory teams that have been consulted on a process change show understandable drops in output once the change has been implemented, they deliver a far faster recovery to pre-change output levels and beyond.

A collaborative approach shifts a change from something that is happening to a team, to something they’re actively working alongside you to bring about themselves. It creates a sense of ownership. When the team is involved, consulted and included in the change management process, they have a direct stake in the success or failure of the new project. You’re much more likely to succeed if the team’s on board, but you have to invite them onto the boat.

Give them plenty of notice

No matter how inefficient legacy systems or processes are, people still need sufficient time to wrap their heads around something new. Let them know about an incoming change as early as possible, so they have time to prepare. Communicate the change through multiple channels – team meetings, emails, notice boards and so on. In these communications, be sure to open up a direct line of communication for feedback.

Follow up

Once the change is implemented, the change management process continues for a period of follow-up. For a good few months after you’ve implemented the change, regularly check in with the team and invite them to give you feedback on the new system or process, so that you can tweak and refine it as you go. What’s working? What isn’t working? How can we make it better?

Talk, talk, talk!

Foundational to successful change management is clear, frequent, two-sided communication between the team and the leaders responsible for implementing change. Remember, your team is a valuable resource when it comes to getting it done, and consulting them 10-Xes your chances of success. In my experience, if you approach change management with empathy and respect for your team, you’ll be surprised at how quickly people get on board.

Do you have any top tips for managing change in your operation? What’s your approach?

About the author
Patricia Hume
Chief Executive Officer

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