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The Role Leaders Play in the Process When Communicating Organizational Change

Alison Davis
Alison Davis

Change efforts have been proven to be more successful when leaders are involved. During these times, your job is to help them understand and embrace their critical role in communicating organizational change to employees.

Follow these tips to get them involved and learn the do's and don'ts for leaders. Provide leaders with the tools and resources they need to be successful in communicating organizational change to employees.

Every organization, including yours, experiences change. Even if you aren't currently undergoing a layoff, reorganization, merger, acquisition, outsourcing or the big shift in benefits, you probably will be in the near future. 

When that time comes, will your senior leaders be on the front line of change? Or will they delegate communicating the change to you?

The answer to those two questions can make or break a change project. Your change efforts are more likely to be successful if leaders from the CEO to VPs are actively involved.

But how can you prepare your leaders to embrace their critical role in supporting change? Try these five tips to build your change communication strategy to engage your leaders in the process.

Related Article: The Psychology of Organizational Change: How Neuroscience Can Help Leaders

1. Make Sure Senior Leaders Know Their Roles

The leaders who are reporting to CEO may not understand their roles as key change communicators as the CEO himself, even VP or any other senior leader are not aware of their roles in communication. You need to set those expectations by bringing together these senior leaders to not only provide an overview of an upcoming change but to focus on how important it is that they meet with employees to explain the change. Then provide a leader communication guide that further explains their role, and give them essential tools to fulfill that role, including key messages and frequently asked questions.

2. Ensure that Leaders Truly Understand the Change

Often VPs and unit leaders know what's changing, but don't get the full extent of the organization-wide implications. Make sure leaders have an opportunity to learn what's changing, where and when; this is best done through a face-to-face session with senior management.

3. Show Leaders How People Experience Change Communication

When key decisions have not yet been finalized and leaders don't know what they should be communicating change, they'll often stop. Consider organizing an interactive session for the company's top 100 leaders to help them understand why employees need contact, even if definitive information isn't available.

Have your CEO explain the change, then break the audience out into teams and have them brainstorm questions they think employees may have. If you have enough time, you might also want to have senior leaders answer some of the key questions generated. This exercise gives participants a way to express their questions and concerns by channeling employees.

Related Article: Turning the Ship Around: A Guide to Changing Workplace Culture

Just as important, give leaders help with questions they won't be able to answer. In some cases, the answer is not yet known; in others, it can't be shared. Regardless, coach leaders on sample responses to all questions, including what to say about rumors or when someone expresses anxiety.

4. Provide Leaders With Easy-to-Use Tools

When there is change happening in the organization that needs to be communicated and leaders that have less time for it than they usually have. And in situations leaders need a strategy and set of tools which have all the necessary facts and message that can help answer all their queries. They can even contain PowerPoint deck and answers to FAQs, Consider creating a mobile-compatible change communication micro-site for leaders. That way they can access all the tools right from their tablets or smart phones.

5. Use Clear Language When Communicating Change

Don't use clichés or slogans. Employees can spot "corporate speak." Be open, be honest, and most importantly, be respectful. Employees will remember how change is communicated to those most impacted and will see it as a sign of how your company values all its staff.

Leading change is never easy, but by equipping leaders with the help they need, they and the organization will be set up for success.

Change Communication Tips for Leaders


  • Think only about the information you need to share.
  • Focus on the employee perspective.
  • Use specific examples of what employees need to do differently to help the company succeed.
  • Deliver a message once, then expect everyone to "get it."
  • Consistency and repetition are key. By the time you're ready to tell employees about a change, you've probably been working on the issue for months. But employees are hearing it for the first time, so they need to hear the message multiple times to truly get it.


  • Do all the talking. Listen. Letting people give voice to their anxieties has been proven by researchers to release tension.
  • Get irritated when hearing a question you've answered many times before.
  • Don't show haste. Be patient even if you don't feel that way. How well leaders answer questions can mean the difference between encouraging employees to speak freely and shutting people down. And remember, just because you've heard a question before doesn't mean the employee asking has.
  • Become defensive when someone asks a tough question.

Related Article: Why Every Company Needs Business Process Management

Answer difficult questions openly and honestly. If you don't know all the details, it's OK to say, "I don't know," but make sure to tell employees you'll give them the rest of the information as soon as possible.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Alison Davis
Alison Davis Member
Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche and Rogers Communications – reach, engage and motivate their employees. Alison sets the strategic direction for the firm, consults with the client on their toughest communication challenges and leads the development of new products and services. Alison has written or edited these groundbreaking books: 49 ways to improve employee communications, The Definitive Guide to HR Communication, and Your Attention, Please. Alison is a former online columnist for the New York Times and frequently writes articles for leading business and trade publications. A seasoned blogger, she is the author of the company’s Insights Blog and writes an online column for Inc. A sought-after speaker on communication issues, Alison has led sessions for such organizations as the Conference Board, Society of Human Resource Management and The International Association of Business Communicators. Alison earned her B.A from Douglass College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.