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Communicating Change

Robin Gerrow

Perceived Fairness May be Key to Successful Change Management

Organizational change is inevitable. It can go well—or not.

Although employees are significant stakeholders in an organization, they are all too frequently not part of the equation when it comes to implementing important organizational changes. As a result, the process might not go as smoothly as it could.

Kami Tsai, PhD of Raymond James, and a recent graduate of the doctoral program at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, decided to look at how employee engagement in the change process impacts how well change is implemented when organizations decide to shake things up.

“Years ago, I worked for an international clinical research firm in an entry level job where I experienced a number of changes that the organization did not handle well,” she said. “It was very frustrating as an employee, and it made me interested in how organizations could handle change better.”

In her presentation “Garnering Employee Behavioral Support for Change,” at the 33rd Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in Chicago, Illinois, she reviewed three critical actions that can be taken to elicit employee support for organizational change.

Tsai examined the triangle of allowing employee participation, communicating about change, justifying change, and how they impacted behavioral support from employees. For the study, 500 full-time workers who indicated that they had experienced organizational change within the past 3 years completed an online survey.

These three critical actions have been shown to be effective in earning support for change, but Tsai was interested in how these actions help gain support by looking at their connection to affective commitment to change—positive support for change—which can lead to behavioral support. She also wanted to see how those change actions influence the perception of organizational justice, or fairness. In particular, how did procedural, informational, and interpersonal justice impact the success of the change?

Interpersonal justice relates to the respect shown people impacted by a decision, whereas informational justice refers to truthfulness and explanations regarding timeliness. In this case, procedural justice concerns fairness in the process of change, which can be enhanced when stakeholders feel they have a voice in the process.

“Employees’ perceptions of how fair a change process is can have a profound impact on how readily those employees will commit to a change and support it,” Tsai said. “So, it is important to understand what organizations can do during a change to influence those perceptions.“

Although Tsai hypothesized that the critical actions would impact organizational justice overall, what she found was that there was one aspect that employees really prioritized.

“The most significant finding of my research is the key role that procedural justice perceptions appear to play in employees’ commitment to change,” Tsai said. “This finding supports past research and suggests that employees may be more likely to be committed to a change and support it if they believe it has been implemented in a way that they deem fair.

“I was surprised that informational and interpersonal justice did not appear to play a significant role in employees’ commitment to change,” she said.

Because of the relationship between procedural justice perceptions and change communications, this study suggests that behavioral support for change is more likely when employees participate in the change and if change communications are implemented more effectively.

“Organizations should be considerate of their employees when they approach change.” Tsai said. “They should plan to involve employees early on and communicate with them throughout the process. Many times, organizations will not involve employees soon enough in the process, which can be detrimental to gaining employee commitment to a change.

“I recommend that organizations be as transparent as possible with their employees when it comes to change,” she continued. “They should provide justification for why the change is happening, and they should allow for two-way communication throughout the change process.”

Establishing employee commitment to change, which lays the groundwork for behavioral support, is one of the keys to successful change implementation. Keeping that in mind will help organizations be more successful in their change management. The SIOP white paper “Organizational Change and Policing: The Issue of Readiness” makes the case for establishing the need and support for change through “readiness for change” to establish commitment by stakeholders.

Engaging employees in general in the workplace can help ease organizational changes when they are eminent. SIOP offers several resources on how to enhance employee engagement including a mini-webinar, “Best Practices in Employee Engagement,” and a white paper, “Getting Engaged: Top Tips for an Engaged Workforce.”

Connect with Kami Tsai by email.

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