July 2, 2021

Effectively Communicate Change to Organizations

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Over the last 18 months, leadership teams within organizations needed to increase the amount and frequency of communication to their employees tenfold. We’ve lost the casual water cooler talk, large catch-all in-person meetings, town halls and casual gatherings. All of these have all been replaced by scheduled zooms with planned out agendas, with many employees off of video, on mute and most likely multi-tasking.

Even before COVID, getting the proper amount of communication out there and the mode of doing so has already been a challenge to say the least. So how have leaders been able to effectively communicate something as challenging as change? Whether that change be new hires joining the team, strategic direction shifts, physical location preferences or even something as big as notifying your employees that you’ve sold your SaaS company, consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs when crafting your message (like Gavin Hammar’s blog when introducing a leadership change at Sendible).

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in human psychology that breaks down human needs into five tiers, with those tiers being sequentially ordered in a pyramid as shown below.

effectively communicate change

1. Physiological or Basic needs

At our core, we need food, water, warmth and sleep. Without those four things, we do not care really about anything else. In the second tier and still within basic needs is security and safety. Those basic needs may just be considered as individuals, but also extend to family and/or households. Fortunately, the majority of our employees likely have their basic needs covered, so we don’t need to focus our communication efforts on solving basic needs.

2. Psychological needs

The next two tiers (safety and belonging) can be bucketed under psychological needs. Directly above safety needs are intimate relationships and friends. This is where we need to start our consideration for our teams, given a lot of employee’s close friends tend to be in the workplace. 

Our culture has shifted where work colleagues are not sequestered to just fill a role or need. We have increased the amount of time we spend in the workplace, and that has resulted in turning working relationships into personal relationships. This shows up in the workplace communication problem in many ways. 

One example that has happened a lot in the last year, especially in larger organizations, are reorgs (or reorganization). Moving individuals, whole teams, managers, you name it, to other places within the organization. Whole team dynamics were disrupted and placed somewhere else. In a lot of cases, this took people who have been teammates for years and moved them away to start fresh with new co-workers. Individuals went from working on a team with friends (intimate relationships), to strangers. That change cannot be easy, and may not set up your company for success.  

3. Esteem and Respect

The next tier is prestige and feeling of accomplishment. This is arguably one of the most lost necessities in the last year, as praise and recognition in a virtual world is a major feat to pull off. Praise can be difficult to communicate because it may seem disingenuous, may not include all those that deserve a piece of the credit and the mode of communication (video, phone, email and/or Slack) will actually matter depending on the individual employee being recognized. 

For this tier, consider the individual more than creating structure. Don’t always revert to what is easiest (say recognizing an employee of the month in a monthly newsletter), but think about what that individual would most appreciate. Sometimes that might even mean sending them praise in a one-on-one session.

4. Self-actualization / Self-fulfillment needs

The last tier is self-fulfillment needs, which means helping one achieve one’s full potential. As you’ve noticed, the further up the pyramid you go (or the further down this blog you go), the more personalized it becomes to satisfying one’s needs.

In this case, it is important to communicate the leadership’s future vision. That can and should typically be expressed to the entire organization (like a company all hands), but then trickle down to necessary meetings, teams and then individuals, demonstrating to how each fits within that vision for the organization. What may be even more challenging at that point is to identify where those conversations will be easy, (when an individuals' development goals match up with the company’s vision) and where they may be difficult (when those goals may lead them outside the vision). Whether easy or difficult, both conversations need to happen. Alignment starts with communication, but it finishes with action.

Crafting your next company message

So next time you’re thinking through communicating anything to the organization, consider utilizing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a framework to form that message. Forecast what questions are going to arise from the group, (whether verbally or just in their own heads) and knowing that these five areas tend to capture the majority of their immediate thoughts. Getting in front of their fears, anxiety or areas of excitement will bring you closer to the entire organization (see PwC's report here).

Give it a try and let us know what you think! If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.


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