Author(s), Title and Publication
Van Praet, E., & Van Leuven, S. (2018). When change readiness spirals down: A mixed-method case study of change communication at a European government agency. International Journal of Business Communication, 1-22. doi: 10.1177/2329488418808017
It is widely recognized among academics and consultants that transforming public organizations is difficult. Despite decades of research on the topic of change management and communication, public sector executives still struggle to grasp the human dimension of change projects (e.g., employees’ beliefs and expectations). The study reported in this article is grounded in the assumption that individuals’ perception of change plays a crucial role in affecting the process and the outcome of the change event. The authors applied a multimethod approach to examine employees’ perception of an organizational change. Specifically, they sought to explore (1) to what extent employees accept the change process; (2) employees’ level of satisfaction with the way change has been communicated; and (3) employees’ opinions on the role of internal communication in influencing their resistance to change. The data were collected from employees working for a European government agency in early stages of change implementation. The study comprised a survey of 718 staff members and 18 in-depth interviews. The majority of the participants were clerical staff (74.9%) who are representative of the labor division in the government agency.
Some highlights from their findings include that respondents had a neutral to slightly negative attitude regarding their motivation to facilitate the success of the change. Interview data corroborated this finding showing that most participants did not acknowledge the need for change or the change design. Some concerns from participants were the duration and complexity of the change, poor distribution of change information, and the inadequate planning process for the change. Furthermore, respondents viewed the internal communication negatively. Respondents felt that management had withheld key information, provided inaccurate/incomplete information, and showed little care and concern about them. Additionally, they regularly experienced a disrupted flow of vertical communication both from bottom-up (i.e., not listened to) and top-down (i.e., insufficient or inaccurate information provided). Moreover, respondents only focused on activities that were relevant to their personal gain and self-interest. The authors thus conclude that a lack of clear, unambiguous communication could be a big threat to gaining employees’ support for change.
Implications for Practice
Leaders should (1) complement top-down strategies with bottom-up approaches to ensure employees can be part of the change decision-making process, (2) implement transparent and clear change communication, (3) manage and align employees’ values with the needs and goals of the organization during the change, and (4) increase awareness of employees’ subjective concerns during the change.
Location of Article: This article is available online at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2329488418808017 (abstract free, purchase full article)