Change Management: Why You Must Address the Pink Elephant in the Room

123RF Stock Photo
123RF Stock Photo

So your organization is going through some type of change. How can lack of communication during times of change affect your productivity and profitability?

More than likely your employees know what’s going on sooner than you may think. Actually, if your organization is currently going through a change, employees and customers are probably talking about it as you read this. So it would best if you addressed that “pink elephant” in the room and nip that water cooler talk in the bud soon as possible.

Whether it is downsizing, merger or acquisition, implementation of new technology, or change in strategy, regardless of the situation, honest, transparent, and timely COMMUNICATION with employees and stakeholders is imperative to success. Without information, assumptions form. Assumptions lead to rumors. And rumors can impact performance and can sabotage positive change.

Why employees aren’t engaged

As your employees are spending time talking about whatever it is that is going on in your organization and worrying about how it impacts them and what it means to their jobs, they aren’t getting their jobs done – they aren’t fully engaged and high performing.

They are likely unmotivated and less likely to bring forth new, innovative ideas – ideas that could be helpful on how to improve productivity, profitability, procedures, and processes and positively assist with the changes in your organization.

Your employees are one of your organizations greatest strengths – draw on them, respect them, communicate with them and keep them engaged!

How to halt the rumor mill

So what should you do about this? How do you halt the rumor mill and keep engagement stable during change?

  • The short answer (in case you didn’t notice my not so subtle attempt to call it out above) is to communicate, communicate, communicate. A detailed communications strategy developed specifically for the change effort is also helpful. A change management framework and plan of execution are also necessary for success. After all, you can’t just stay quiet, snap your fingers and expect everything to turn out as you want (if you master that, please let me know!).

What if you can’t divulge all the details? How do you address that with employees and stakeholders?

  • Let’s face it, you can always divulge something. No one enjoys lack of information; however, few enjoy information overload either. It’s about balance. Communicate in small bites. Start with communicating information that has been agreed to by leadership, is timely, and has a direct impact on employees and stakeholders. Be transparent that certain details are not yet worked out and some information may be at a very high level – however, what is ready to be shared is being shared with the appropriate audiences and more information will follow.

What are some other actions you should take to address possible employee issues during times of change?

  • Aware leaders are quickly recognizing that having a strong and committed workforce is a key success factor for achieving desired goals and objectives during a time of organizational change – and for a high performing organization in general. Specific actions help to support and achieve positive outcomes. As mentioned, one easy way to maintain an engaged and committed workforce – and customer base – is with open, honest, and timely communication.

So a bit more about that process…

Once the changes are ready to be introduced to the masses, the process must include corresponding communications and change management efforts. These efforts should include specific and detailed plans and actions that run in parallel, not independently.

Without a strategic communications plan, it is extremely difficult to determine the who, what, when, where, and how the information should be introduced. A detailed communications plan should outline the content, vehicles, and frequency of communications with the various audiences and include methods to receive feedback.

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This can help minimize certain employee concerns associated with organizational changes – concerns that if go unaddressed can have a negative impact. Careful communications and change planning and execution are imperatives to minimizing resistance, increasing understanding, obtaining and maintaining engagement and performance, and supporting achieving successful outcomes.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

So the moral of the story – let me put it in the words of a manager I worked with on a recent change effort:

… I’m not a child; don’t treat me like one. Communicate with your employees; don’t treat them like they’re your children who don’t know what is really going on. They are more perceptive than you think, and can sense that change is imminent. We all know something is going on, we know changes are happening. Tell me the truth. The sooner I know the truth the sooner I can determine how I can help – or get out of the way.”

So, have you ever been an employee in a situation like this? If so, how did you react? What was the environment like at work? How do you think things could have been handled better? What was the outcome of the change? I’d love to hear your story.

The phrase “white elephant in the room” can also mean the same as “pink elephant in the room,” and “pink elephant” can also be referenced regarding alcohol and hallucinations.

So, the color of the elephant in the room doesn’t make much difference and isn’t really the point. The color is simply a unique qualifier to further bring the point to the forefront – the point being a huge elephant exists and no one is talking about it!

This was originally published on the Tolero Think Tank blog.

Scott Span, MSOD, is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions, an Organization Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in achieving success through people, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable -- organizations where people enjoy working and customers enjoy doing business. 


4 Comments on “Change Management: Why You Must Address the Pink Elephant in the Room

  1. Two way communication is important – don’t just be ready to tell employees all about it and expect the communication to be over.  Plan for feedback – let them express ideas – give them an avenue for that. 

  2. Agreed. As I mentioned,  a detailed communications plan should outline the content, vehicles, and frequency of communications with the various audiences and – include methods to receive feedback. No one liked being talked AT!

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