Effective communication at the workplace

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INTRODUCTION:

For the smooth functioning of the business, effective communication at the workplace is very important. In an organization a two-way communication is a must. Managers should have personal contacts with their subordinates. They can help reduce absenteeism amongst workers and also increase their productivity through proper communication. They should properly communicate the goals and policies of the organization to their subordinates and also get proper feedback from them on these goals and policies.

For communication to be effective there should be both horizontal and vertical communication in any organization. Vertical communication is the communication that takes place between the superiors and the subordinates. A healthy vertical communication ensures that the managers are properly communicating the goals, target policies and procedures to the employees and at the same time the superiors are also aware of the concerns of their subordinates. Horizontal communication is the communication that occurs between the employees at the same level. To build a bond between the employees it is essential that they share their feelings and suggestions with each other. A healthy horizontal communication results in the motivation of the team members.

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The feedback is a very important part of communication. The organizational structure should be such that all the employees should get a timely feedback. Whether it's a superior or a subordinate, he should get a proper feedback at his work so as to help him improve over his weak areas. Proper training sessions for the enhancement of employees should be conducted.

NEED FOR COMMUNICATION:

All the organizations, today, are going through a change either due to compelling needs or due to their own initiative. Organizations whether big or small, public or private, domestic or global, find themselves in an era of paradigm shift when a set of assumptions are no longer applicable and need to be changed. The organizations today are learning to adapt to the circumstances being created by the recent remapping of the world, the emergence of new global players and the explosion of technology. New management philosophies are being adopted and new methodologies are being followed in order to bring about organizational change.

There is a necessity to change because of the far- reaching changes that have occurred in the environment like liberalized government, smart competition, growing awareness among the masses, high expectations of the shareholders and hence increasing demands of the consumers and unpredictable market fluctuations. The environment is fast changing from being stable to dynamic which brings new requirements and changes.

Organizational change means moving from the old ways of doing things to the new ways that will bring more positive outcomes. A successful change is one where the staff members understand the need for change and participate in the process through communication and consultation.

THE EIGHT STEPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE ARE:

  1. Creating the urgency: People start telling each other that we have to go and change the things.
  2. Build the guiding team: A powerful group is formed which can guide a big change and they start working together well.
  3. Getting the right vision: The guiding makes the right vision and develops the right strategies for the change effort.
  4. Communicate for buy-in: People start to buy in the change and hence this is shown in their behavior.
  5. Empower action: More people find themselves capable enough to act and they do act on the vision.
  6. Create short term wins: Momentum is built as the people try to fulfill the vision and fewer and fewer people resist the change.
  7. Don't give up: People make wave after wave of changes till the vision is fulfilled.
  8. Make the changes stick: Despite the pull of tradition, turnover of the change leaders, the new and winning behavior continues.

In addition to the basic message, such as the new core values, actual vision, core purpose, the following questions can also help in bringing about the change. These questions have been adapted from Daryl Conner's “MANAGING AT THE SPEED OF CHANGE”. Answering these questions can be very helpful.

  • What's wrong with the way we've been doing things?
  • Why were we doing them wrong before?
  • What will happen to me?
  • When?
  • What can I do about it?
  • What is expected of me?
  • What does it mean in my day-to-day job?
  • What will management or leadership do about it?
  • If I encounter problems, what do I do, to whom do I turn?

PHASES IN THE CHANGE PROCESS:

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It is necessary to analyze the phases of the change processes in order to manage the changes successfully. Managers should be aware about what type of situations and problems should be expected in which phase. Only those organizations are more successful which are able to adjust themselves quickly to the new conditions. This requires planned learning processes which lead to improved organizational effectiveness.

Normally the change processes are perceived in seven typical stages.

If the managers are able to understand these phases of change properly, and act accordingly, they would be able to manage the change processes successfully without destroying the motivation and commitment of their staff. Recognizing and accepting the disorganization and temporary lowered effectiveness that characterize the transition state are also an important part of this change management. The transitional change may be difficult and painful. Management commitment and employee support, both, are critical to the success of the desired change.

Essential element of change management strategy is communication. The rationale for change must be well communicated to all the employees and staff. People may oppose the change due to various reasons which may be personal or professional. One of the main reasons why people oppose and often fear changes is that it can pose or be seen to pose threats.

A individual level change can involve:

  1. INSECURITY, i.e. fear of loss of status or failure or comfort etc.
  2. PAIN/GRIEF, i.e. loss of familiar situations, loss of usual ways of behaving and working, loss of confidence in ability etc.
  3. EFFORT, i.e. struggle to learn new ways of working, new skills, building new relations etc.

Many of the fears and anxieties of the people that they have about the changes are often overcome when the changes are well explained and communicated. Clear and effective communication can, therefore, be the vital key to address the people about the problems associated with the changes. The process of communicating change should not be rushed but should be seen as fair and transparent.

A clear communication should include the following:

  • The background and reasons for the workplace change.
  • Detail on the organizational changes ( e.g.: revised structure, budgetary constraints, internal and external factors impacting on an area or technological change, the impact on the workforce and timelines.).
  • Presentation of the relevant financial data to the staff to assist them with understanding why the change is necessary.
  • Management of the change processes.
  • Information on the support mechanisms for staff (for example, counseling services etc.).
  • Information about how the concerns would be managed, including the grievance mechanism.;
  • Keeping the people well informed in an accurate and timely manner. A record of all the meetings should be taken and disseminated to the staff, including those on leave.
  • Official lines of communication over informal networks should be used.
  • The ability of the staff to ask questions and clarify the matters (e.g. hold information sessions);
  • Affirm that the area wants to retain and would need good staff in the new structure.

There are the different options as to how the Managers can communicate changes. Some options would also include:

  • Distribution of an initial handout (memo, flyer, brochure) explaining the initiative and the process involved.
  • Involvement in the decision-making process.
  • Discussion Paper and project newsletters.
  • Agency magazines.
  • Briefings and workshops and interactive presentations.
  • Communication through E-mails.
  • Educating and training management and staff on how to use the new systems and technology.
  • And also ensuring that the staff who are on approved absence from work are also consulted and kept informed about the progress of the change.

Communicating in the times of organizational change, be it change in the leadership or service unit restructuring or modifications to individual roles and job descriptions typically involves two things:

  1. CONTENT
  2. PROCESS

Content is usually fixed and defined readily. e.g. someone in a leadership role may be dismissed or he may resign. Redundancies- voluntary or otherwise- or the creation of new positions may alter the duties of the existing staff. Most managers are very clear on the content which means that they understand what they have to say and do. Managers fail to communicate changes due to the weak change processes. Failure to communicate their message across their staff by the managers may lead to misunderstandings, frustrations and conflicts. Failure to strive and thrive in a changing atmosphere and to achieve new goals cannot always be attributed to poor strategy and thinking. The failure is the inability to engage with the employees, to harness their enthusiasm and to renew their commitment. It is failure that comes back to communication.

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Even the bad news can be communicated well. It may not be possible to alter the content but being respectful and up- front can reduce the personal distress and help the people to move forward. There is always the time to determine the goal before engaging the others even in a fast moving crisis, such as dismissal of a public official or senior manager or serious workplace accident.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE CHANGE PROPOSAL:

It is very important to communicate the decisions that have been made from the change proposal, their effects on the workplace and the details of the implementation plan to the staff members.

The implementation plan includes:

  1. Preparing and disseminating the information about the new work groups and their functions
  2. Retaining the staff wherever necessary to undertake new work roles. It may be required to train the staff who undertake additional or different tasks from their prior roles.
  3. Filling of the positions if new structure is to be implemented. Disruption and displacement of employees can be minimized by establishing an internal transfer mechanism.
  4. Providing transition counseling to the staff members
  5. Providing training to the managers to make them aware about how to provide leadership and support to the staff.

REVIEW THE CHANGE PROCESS:

The change implementation process should be reviewed after a timely interval. It is necessary to evaluate the staff feedback and the effect on the operations of the area. It is recommended that the review should take place within 6- 12 months after the implementation of the change.

Change can be one of the most difficult obstacles to be overcome in the workplace. But change cannot occur without relentless communication to the point. The task of managers is to make the change a little more easier for the employees. This is not simple but there are ways to make this transition easier Lack of information or improper communication of information are the most important causes of change failure. An organization may need to implement certain changes but in order to implement those changes it is equally important for it to win the hearts and minds of its workforce. Most of the times people are just 'told' what the change will be and how they are expected to implement it. But the most important part is missing here, i.e. to make the people understand the reasons why is it being done. They should also be given the opportunities to express their views and contribute their own ideas as to how it can be implemented.

Thus the formula for managing change is to involve everyone in the process and communicate it at an appropriate level. The trainers need to encourage the culture where the “permission” for making decisions is given and is allowed at each level accordingly. This makes the people feel that their views and concerns about the change are valued and it would just strengthen and win their support for the change.

IMPLICATIONS OF IMPROPER COMMUNICATION OF CHANGES AT WORKPLACE:

In case the changes that are introduced at the workplace are not communicated properly then it can have the following causes:

  1. The employees would resist the change. So it is important to explain them the reasons why the change is being made.
  2. The implementation of the change would not take place effectively and properly.
  3. Improper communication can lead to discomfort among the employees as they are not able to relate themselves well with the people and the workplace itself.
  4. Improper communication of changes can lead to misunderstandings, delays, frustrations, conflicts etc.
  5. Improper communication of changes can effect the efficiency and productivity of the employees.

CONCLUSION:

Change is inevitable and effects all of us at various points of our lives. People often fear and resist changes even if its for their betterment. People usually don't like to come out of their comfort zones and feel unsure of themselves when they tread in foreign waters. Changes bring about a major learning curve and they require some adjustment period. A lot of anxiety and stress is also caused by the changes. However, if people learn to accept changes with a positive attitude and also anticipate and tackle them pro actively, the changes can be more effective. Change puts people in a grey zone as there is transition between old and new. Any organization that is undergoing a change has to think about how the employees will manage the transition and hence they need to communicate it properly. If the transition is not successful, the change effort will fail as the employees are the driving force behind any change strategy that a company may want to implement. Hence there is a need to manage and communicate the changes properly so as to make them effective in a positive manner.

REFERENCES:

  1. Carnall, Colin, Managing Change in Organizations, 2nd ed. London: Prentice Hall, 1995.
  2. Conner, Daryl. 1992. Managing at the Speed of Change: How Resilient Managers Succeed and Prosper Where Others Fail, Villard Books, New York.
  3. Danes, Sharon M. 1999. Change: Loss, Opportunity and Resilience, University of Minnesota: St.Paul. (http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/familydevelopment/DE7421.html)
  4. Kotter, J.P. and Cohen, D.S. 2002. The heart of change, Harvard Business School Press: Boston.
  5. Recklies, Oliver, 2001, Managing Change - Definition und Phases in Change Processes.