Communication is vital
In any organisation undergoing significant change, communication is key in ensuring the commitment of the workforce to the change. Only if employees understand the planned change and recognise its importance, can they be expected to strive toward its success. In order to broadcast messages of change, corporate communication reaches employees through the usual channels, including speeches, newsletters, the intranet, meetings, or trainings. While employees can learn what the change is about through these channels, it is often not sufficient to secure their buy in and full support. Providing information and sharing expectations is important but it does not necessarily win over hearts and minds.
One important communication channel that is often neglected in change management is the social network within the organisation – the web of informal relationships between employees. Informal relationships such as friendship ties span across organisational structures and hierarchies. While the organisational chart tells us how communication should flow within the organisation, the social network tells us how it actually flows. Even more importantly, through informal ties, such as friendships, employees influence each other’s perceptions and attitudes toward the change. Organisational researchers have long documented how employees’ perceptions and values converge within their social networks. But while many companies have started to discover the social networks of their consumers as an important communication channel, only few pay attention to their own employee networks.
How can change communication be leveraged through employee networks? Techniques of social network analysis (SNA) reveal the specific patterns of communication within units or the overall organisation. Based on the results of the SNA, companies can design specific interventions to leverage the network for the change communication. But even without these advanced techniques, some suggestions can be made: