Effectively communicating change is difficult. It’s particularly difficult in a service environment where companies rely on front line employees to deliver the brand promise.
In most cases, these employees are untethered from a desk and computer and can be notoriously difficult to communicate with. Tribe works with lots of companies that depend on front line employees to deliver some type of service to the company’s customers – from retail to hospitality to fitness to heath and senior care.
We’ve picked up a few tips that might help the next time change is happening at your company:
1. Be consistent with the message – from leadership all the way to the front lines. The cascade is the most popular way of communicating. It’s also the least dependable way of communicating. Everyone knows the telephone game where one person communicates something to the next. The message can be completely lost by the time it gets to the end of the line.
Managers of front-line employees are rarely professional communicators. They want and they need help with messaging – particularly in times of change. Developing manager toolkits are an important way to ensure that the key points and the underlying substance have a better chance of being communicated clearly and consistently. It’s critically important to take time to supplement the change conversation with talking points and communication support.
2. Explain the why. When change is happening, it’s usually happening to better align the business around a vision or strategy. To leadership, it’s very easy to connect the dots and understand how this change is going to help the business. However, it’s not always easy for frontline employees to grasp why the new way is better. Communications should focus on how the change in their actions is going to help the company be more successful – and how this will ultimately benefit the customer.
3. Explain the why – until people understand. Leadership often communicates once and checks the box. Again, it’s not always easy for frontline employees to understand the importance of the change. So it’s important to plan for follow up communications. Calendarize the communications plan and find creative and engaging ways to test that employees understand their role in the change.
4. Give frontline managers time to prepare and react. Leadership often feels that the change needs to happen very quickly. They fear that competitors will learn about the change and outflank them in some way. Or that it’s such a pressing issue that the company will fail if we don’t change immediately. These things may be true. But it’s even more important that change is handled in a way that won’t sink the ship. Give managers time to understand the change and prepare their team to effectively execute it.
Leadership is often disconnected from the realities of the front line. Another benefit of giving managers time to prepare and react is that conversations with front line managers can unearth unintended consequences of change. These conversations can be the difference in success and failure of the initiative.
5. Marketing change to customers will also support front line employees. Changes in service environments often leave customers confused or angry about the change. Front line employees are the ones who will be answering customer questions and explain what’s going on.
When change affects customers, it’s important to proactively market to them – with in-store posters, customer newsletters or other traditional approaches – to help them understand why things are happening. The better your customers understand the change, the easier it will be for your employees to help them through it.
There’s no silver bullet for effectively communicating change in a service environment, and it can be difficult. It requires a concerted effort from the C-Suite to operations to the field to the front line.
Need help developing change communications plans? Tribe can help