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Communicating Change

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Communicating Change

Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals


15 min read
9 take-aways
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Forget the CEO's speech. Managers who want to connect with employees should empower and inform front-line supervisors.

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Nearly every CEO of a large corporation believes that words directly from his or her mouth will inspire front-line employees. Five decades of research show just the opposite, explain consultants and authors T.J. and Sandar Larkin. Their investigations emphasize the importance of communicating change through low-level supervisors, a group that has more credibility with front-line workers. They maintain that CEOs must go beyond simply telling supervisors what to do; they must also listen to these key employees and empower them by taking their suggestions seriously. The authors provide plenty of real-world examples to bolster their case. recommends this clearly constructed argument to CEOs and to anyone charged with communicating with large numbers of employees. This engaging treatise, a classic, is ready to persuade its next crop of managers.


Communicating to Employees: Forget What You Know

When a corporation must tell front-line employees about major changes such as layoffs or strategic shifts, the method of communication follows predictable scripts. Everyone is herded into a massive conference room to hear the news directly from the CEO. The top boss lauds the employees’ hard work, emphasizes the critical nature of this new initiative and ends the rah-rah speech with a plea for support. That is followed by videos sent to the company’s far-flung offices and satellite hookups where corporate types address employees’ questions and concerns. The company newsletter overflows with information about the change.

This approach is all wrong for any company that hopes to win the hearts and minds of its front-line employees. In fact, it can be counterproductive. Workers facing layoffs or pay cuts are likely to receive the head office’s messages with suspicion or outright hostility. Eastern Airlines executives learned this lesson the hard way in 1988. When the news was bad, top execs met with the rank and file, only to be greeted with spitting or even swinging fists.

Those ugly confrontations simply proved the...

About the Authors

T. J. Larkin and Sandar Larkin are directors of Larkin Communications Consulting, which has offices in New York, London and Melbourne. T. J. holds a doctorate and attended the University of Oxford and Michigan State University. Sandar previously worked for an international bank.

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