This blog is presented by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
Change management communication remains an under researched area in public relations, despite the fact that organizational change is constant – whether it be changes in leadership, strategies, mergers, rebranding efforts or layoffs.
To provide new insights, Rita Men, associate professor of public relations, April Cen Yue, doctoral student at the University of Florida, and I conducted survey research with a sample of 1,034 U. S. employees with the assistance of a national sampling firm. The focus of our study was the influence of communication climate and organizational identification on desired change outcomes such as positive and supportive employee attitudes and behaviors toward change. We presented the findings at the International Public Relations Research Conference on March 8 in Orlando, Florida.
Communication climate focuses on issues such as the receptiveness of management to employee feedback and the accuracy of information being shared with employees (Dillard, Wigand & Boster, 1986; Guzley, 1992). Consistent with this concept, we examined employees’ perceptions of openness/trust in communication and their ability to participate in decision-making during organizational change.
Secondly, we asked employees about how closely they identify with their employer. Organizational identification refers to “the perception of oneness with or belongingness to an organization, where the individual defines him or herself in terms of the organization(s) which he or she is a member” (Mael & Ashforth, 1992, p. 104). Organizational identification can encompass employees’ support for the organization’s goals and values.
The desired outcomes we tested included employee affective commitment or belief in the inherent value of the proposed change, and their supportive behaviors toward change, specifically cooperation and championing, which includes enthusiasm and willingness to promote the change among other employees (Herscovitch & Meyer, 2002).
Using structural equation modeling analysis, we found that communication climate and organizational identification matter in the context of change management communication, which has implications for internal communication managers and senior leadership.
- We found that in an organization with positive communication climate featured by openness/trust in communication and participation, employees are more likely to believe in and support the change through cooperation and championing the change.
- Secondly, a positive communication climate helps foster organizational identification, which contributes to employees’ attitudes and commitment to the change as well as behavior, referring to cooperation and championing the change.
Implications for Internal Communicators & Senior Leaders
Organizational communication climate is not created overnight. Organizational leaders need to be open, create a trusting atmosphere, and actively involve employees in the decision-making process. Some different ways organizations can encourage employee feedback include town hall meetings, skip-level meetings, employee ambassador programs and culture committees (Neill, 2018). If these programs are already a part of their communication climate, then they can be readily used during times of organizational change. During times of organizational change, mid-level managers and direct supervisors should be available and offer opportunities for employees to share their concerns and any problems they are encountering during implementation of the changes (Neill, 2018).
Secondly, to enhance organizational identification, employers should regularly communicate and reinforce their core values and mission through employee testimonials and historical anecdotes, review their core values to identify any inconsistencies with their policies and reward systems, and conduct routine surveys to determine how employees rate the company/organization’s performance in regards to their core values (Neill, 2016).
More specifically during times of organizational change, internal communication managers should work with senior leadership to develop information guides and talking points for mid-level and direct supervisors that explain the reasons for the change, how the change is consistent with the organization’s values and how employees will be impacted (Neill, 2018). They also can share employee stories that demonstrate support for the change and how the change is consistent with the organization’s identity and values (Neill, 2018).
Communication climate and organizational identification are two key factors that can contribute to successful change management communication and should be strategic priorities for internal communication initiatives.
Marlene S. Neill, PhD., is an assistant professor at Baylor University where she teaches courses in advertising and public relations. She previously worked in nonprofit and government public relations for almost 12 years.
Dillard, J. P., Wigand, R. T., & Boster, F. J. (1986). Communication climate and its role in organizations. Communications, 12(2), 83-101.
Guzley, R. M. (1992). Organizational climate and communication climate: Predictors of commitment to the organization. Management Communication Quarterly, 5, 379-402.
Herscovitch, L., & Meyer, J. P. (2002). Commitment to organizational change: Extension of a three-component model. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(3), 474-487.
Mael, F. A., & Ashforth, B. E. (1992). Alumni and their alma mater: A partial test of the reformulated model of organizational identification. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13, 103-123.
Neill, M.S. (2018). Change Management Communication: Barriers, Strategies & Messaging. Public Relations Journal, 12 (1): https://prjournal.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/NeillMarlene_ChangeManagement.pdf
Neill, M.S. (2016). The Influence of Employer Branding in Internal Communication. Research Journal of the Institute for Public Relations, 3 (1). Available online: http://www.instituteforpr.org/influence-employer-branding-internal-communication/