Communication and Change



The dynamism of the business environment today has made it very essential for organisations to implement change. This is however to help organisations move or operate in a more competitive nature. Even though change is the only constant thing, managers face a lot more difficult task in implementing these changes. Communication however plays an important role in implementing such changes. Kotter, 1996: Goodstein and Warner, 1991: Lewin, 1951) It is long been recognized that effective and appropriate communication is a vital ingredient in the success of change programmes. (Klein, 1996)C communication can be used to reduce resistance, minimize uncertainty and gain involvement and commitment as the change progresses which may, in turn, improve morale and retention rates. Even though communication is daily activity in the operations of an organisation, however it is important for communication to be effective in the context of change. (Balogun and Hope - Hailey, 2003)Despite the important accorded to effective communication, there has been relatively little prior research into the precise mechanisms that managers can use to communicate effectively with employees during a change programme. The evidence available does, however, suggest that communication needs to be context specific in order to be effective, what works well in one organisation under one set of circumstances may necessarily not be successful in another. In our discussion we are going to look at what is communication, the process and elements of communication. What change is, and the steps involved in implementing change in an organisation and which communication supports will be effective and important at the different steps in the change process. There will be discussion on the problems of communicating with an international team, and recommendations in communicating, in the context of change.


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Communication is the transfer of information or message from one person been the sender to another been the receiver. The essence of communicating is to transmit information and get feedback for the message sent. Communication is important in every organisation, because it is the means of sending directives in every organisation.

Turban et al(information technology for management) 2002 page 135 defines communication as an interpersonal process of sending and receiving symbols with messages attached to them through communication people exchange and share information as well as influence and understand each other , most managers spend as much as 90% of their time communicating . Poor communication can mean poor management; managers must communicate effectively among themselves and with others, both inside and outside of their organisation.

Mary Ellen Guffrey (Communication process and product) 2002 Page 10 defines communication as the transmission of information and meaning from one individual or group to another. Meaning is the subject here both the sender and the receiver must express the same meaning of the message or information.


The process of sending information or message can be explained in five 5 steps. They are idea formation, message encoding, message transmission, message decoding and receiving feedback. The first step which is forming ideas is when the sender thinks of kind of message to send, why he is sending the message and who the message is to be sent to, after which he encode the message, here he chooses words and symbols to make meanings of his ideas, after which he chooses the medium of which to transmit the message. Examples of such mediums are by emails, telephone, presentation, news bulletin etc. The next step in the communication process is when the message is decoded by the receiver, here the receiver tries to deduce the meaning of the message exactly as the sender, and then sends feedback to the sender. These feedbacks help the sender to know if the exact meaning of the message has been received.(Klein, 1996; Johnson and Scholes, 2002) Theories of communication makes it clear that effective communication depends on the receiver hearing the message as intended by the sender, and the feedback loop enables both sender and receiver to check understanding. There is however a number of factors that might prevent communication from been effective, these problems are known as NOISE. Blundel and ippolito (effective organisational communication) 2008 page5. The term noise is now interpreted much more widely and is used to refer to various kind of barrier to effective communication that either distort or interrupt an encoded message so that it fails to reach the receiver in its original form. Some of this noise is caused by the choice of word which may have double or more meanings, the use of jargons in our messages, the use of complex phrases, the wrong choice of medium to send the message, example sending information to shareholders using the notice board. And even the mood of the sender and receiver can also cause these problems.

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Communication can be formal or informal, it can interpersonal or mass, it can be interactive or one way, it can be vertical or horizontal, it can be written or oral and it can be internal or external.


Internal communication can be explained as the transmission of information or message within the boundaries of an organisation. Internal communication can be upward or downward, it can also be lateral, thus communication among departments, it can also be informal. Using Business Principles to support ethical communication (http:// explains that internal communication takes place inside an organisation, the internal stakeholder of an organisation are the employees. Thill and Bovee (excellence in business communication) 2002 page 7 defines internal communication as the exchange of information and ideas within an organisation, communication among the members of an organisation is essential for effective function. Effective internal communication however is when the receiver is able to deduce the exact meaning of a message sent within the boundaries of an organisation

Guffrey (Business Communication process and product ) 2002 page15 gives some function of an internal communication as to issue and clarify procedures and policies , inform management of projects, persuade employees and management to make CHANGES and improvement , coordinate activities, evaluate and reward employees.


Change is the process of moving from one choice of something to another. The oxford reference dictionary compiled by Joyce M. Hawkins defines change as to make or become different, exchange or substitute for another. These explains that change is a process , and as such has to move from one stage to the other, the implementation of change are due to reasons such as technological, government policies, competitors, consumers or customers etc. There have been other explanations of the steps of change but the most notable one is the eight steps of change.

Kotter and Cohe (The heart of Change) 2002 page 2 explains that a successful large scale change is a complex affair that happens in eight stages. The flow is this, push urgency up, put together a guiding team, create the vision and strategies, effectively communicate the vision and strategies, remove barriers to action, accomplish short-term wins, keep pushing for wave after wave of change until the work is done and finally, create a new culture to make new behaviour stick.(Lewin 1951; Goodstein and Warner Burke, 1991; Kotter, 1996) however recognised that effective and appropriate communication is a vital ingredient in the success of change programmes.(Goodman and Truss 2004) also explains that the content of communication concerns what information is conveyed to employees before, during and after the change initiative, as well as what information is sought from employees.(Klein 1996) has argued that employees will want to know as much information as possible in order to minimize uncertainty.

The first step increase urgency, people start telling each other let's go, we need to change things, the target audience at this stage is the entire working body of the organisation, here you create a dynamic presentation with compelling objects that people can actually see, touch and feel, in the presentation provide evidence from outside to the organisation, that change is required, find cheap and easy way to avoid complacency. The problems with the communication support here is that it is expensive, it is also time consuming and also relies on the skill of the presenter.

The second step is to build the guiding team, a group powerful enough to guide a big change is formed and they start to work together well, get the right people in place with trust, emotional commitment and teamwork to guide a very difficult change process. Since the audience are the team leaders, structure meeting formats that minimizes frustration and increase trust, the communication support used here takes time to arrange, it also takes the time of each participant and it is difficult to manage the meetings and make decisions.

The third step is to get the vision right; the guiding team develops the right vision and strategy for the change effort. Get the guiding team to create the right vision and strategies to guide action in all of the remaining stages of change; this requires moving beyond number- crunching to address the creative and emotional components of vision. The teams are your audience here and because they will be just small in number you communication with them can be in the form of telephone conversation which is quick and easy, it can also be used to link people from other places and remote teams. However it can be difficult to gauge how the message is received as you can't see the body language, people don't always absorb the entire message, either deliberately or not and can ignore parts of what you are saying.

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The forth step is communicate for buy-in people begin to buy - into the change, and this shows in their behaviour. Find out what people are really feeling and speak to anxieties, confused, angry and distrust people. Keep communication simple and heartfelt, rid communication channels of junk so that important messages can get through, it's important to use new technologies to help people see the vision. At this stage you can communicate with such people through e-mail or through the telephone. The problem with the email is that it relies on technology being available and it can lead to over-communication e.g. copying everything to everyone and it is less personal.

The fifth step is to empower action, more people feel able to act, and do act on the vision. Bring in experienced change leaders to bolster confidence that the job can be done, create recognition and reward systems that inspire, promote optimism and build self confidence and give constructive feedbacks.

The sixth step is to create short term wins; momentum builds as people try to fulfil the vision, while fewer and fewer resist change. Produce enough short term wins fast enough to energize the change helpers, enlighten the pessimists, defuse the cynics and build momentum for effort. Create cheap and easy wins that are visible, timely, unambiguous and meaningful to others. The best communication support here is the use of notice board which is immediate and can have impact, reaches lots of people. The other way it can impersonal, not targeted and employees take their time to look at it which may affect production or service. The use of newsletters and presentation is also ideal.

The seventh step , don't let up, momentum builds as people try to fulfil the vision, while fewer and fewer resist change, continue with wave after wave of change , not stopping until the vision is a reality, no matter how big the obstacles. What works here is to still create cheap and easy wins that are visible, timely, unambiguous and meaningful to others. These can still done by notice board messaging, newsletters or presentation.

The eighth and final stage is to make the change stick, new and winning behaviour continues despite the pull of tradition, turnover of change leaders etc, refuse to declare victory too soon, use new employee orientation , promotion process and vivid stories to visibly and compelling reinforce the vision. The entire organisation needs to be communicated with to make the change stick and these can be possible by conducting frequent and less stressful meetings, newsletters are also appropriate as it can mix business and people information, it can also engender a feeling of belonging and establish an organisation culture, informal chats will also help, as it is quick and easy it is timely and requires little preparation.

This basically is how one can communicate change within an organisation. A good vision when not communicated well, will not achieve the targeted result, it is important to make communication simple and timely as I helps when communicating change, which most work force are resistant to. Zorn (2002) as cited by Blundel and ippolito (effective organisational communication) 2008, research suggest that the success or failure of initiatives depends to a large extent on how ordinary employees perceive the change process, including the ways that they interact with others, and the socially constructed meanings that emerge.

Change has a great effect on how we communicate, the resistance to change affects the way messages are prepared, sent, received and interpreted. Some of the resistance to change as explained in coping with the challenge of change (http//, most people accept change when they have some control and choice, many resist when the control lies completely with others. Reluctance to change occurs when stability, competency, and security are threatened. When people fear the unknown, they often see more minuses than pluses and respond in predictable ways.


Because of the resistance to change managers communicating the change process, may over explain the importance or change thereby distorting the content of the message to be sent which may affect the communication process, in communicating change there is the need to reduce stress and complexity, if the right communication support is not used, it may affect the communication process. Then also because workers may want to maintain tradition, messages or information about change process when sent may not be decoded well there by affecting the feedbacks of messages sent. These and many more are the effects of change on communication process.


Most multinational companies encounter problems communicating with their international teams. As a manager it is essential to of the problems when communicating with an international team. Some of the problems or challenges a manager may encounter when dealing with an international team can be language differences, cultural, political, technological and sometimes the time differences between their respective countries. Individual cultural trails sometimes affect our communication or the communication process when dealing with an international team. Culture can also be the way a business conducts its operations in a particular country, example the way Barclays conducts its operations in the U.K, would be different from the operations of Barclays in Kenya. Communicating change in operations is going to be problem since their operations are not the same, since there is no common corporate culture a business may also have problems sending messages from one country to another because of the time differences, this is particularly a difficulty if an urgent decision is needed. Language may also be different, there could be problems if communication about technical detail needed to be explained, sine communication is not multilingual. Hall et-al (Business Studies) 2009 page 452 another major problem that may affect the communication with an international team can be due to technology, since technology may not be that advanced in some developing countries compared that of others. Example the internet connection speed in the UK, will be faster than that of Uganda, this may slow the process of sending an e mail or any web message across to such countries, thereby delaying the message


As a manager it is important to access the change models or steps to in implementing the change. Because people will be resistant to the change it also important to make communication simple, less stressful and straight to the point, it is essential to communicate the benefits of the change and how important it will be to the organisation as this may reduce tension and panic, there should be avoidance of forcing the message on workers when communicating as they may intend reject the message. As a manager the moment of communicating is also important and the right message should be communicated at the right time. It is good to be factual when communicating, thereby removing junk and unwanted details from messages when communicating in the context change. It also important for managers to use the right communication channel at every change step. Example a manager cannot communicate with team leaders by using the notice board, as the essence of the team may not be seen.


Richard Blundel and Kate Ippolito (2008) Effective Organisational Communication page 5.

Balogun. J. & Hope Hailey. V.(2003) Exploring Strategic Change, FT Pretence Hall, London.

Goodstein, L. D. & Warner Burke, W. (1991) Creating Successful Organisation change, in: C. A. Carnall (Ed.) Strategic Change.

John P. Kotter & Dans Cohe (2002) The Heart of Change page 3-6.

Dave Hall, Rob Jones, Carlo Raffo, Alain Anderton (2009) Business Studies 4th edition page 452.

Johnson. G. & Scholes. K. (2002) Exploring Corporate Strategy, 6th edition FT/ Prentice Hall, London.

Klein. S. M. (1996) A Management Communication Strategy for Change, Journal of Organisational Change Management, page 32-46.

Kotter. J. P. (1996) Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press, Harvard.

Lewin. K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, Harper & Row, New York.

Mary Ellen Guffrey (2002) Communication Process and Product page 10.

John V. Thill & Courtland Bovee (2002) Excellence in Business Communication page 7.

Efraim Turban, Ephraim Mclean, James Wetherbe (2002) Information Technology of Management page 135.