Change is a touchy subject within a company--but is required if
companies are to prosper as markets and technologies change. So how
should companies tackle communicating change to front-line employees,
especially when the future of the company is at stake? T.J.
Larkin, partner in Larkin Communication Consulting and co-author with
Sandar Larkin, of "Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for
New Business Goals" (McGraw-Hill, New York), has an idea.

Larkin described his three-step program at the "1996 Corporate
Communications Conference," held last month in New York by The
Conference Board.

What counts when sending information to employees is
communicating a clear vision of the future, said Larkin. Receivers
want to be well-informed on the facts, by someone they trust, and in a
face-to-face and one-on-one meeting. These three principles are the
how-to's behind faster, better communication and productive employee
behavior change.

Target Front-line Supervisors

Employees want to hear news from the person that they most know
and trust -- front-line supervisors -- as opposed to the corporate
source who usually sends out the information. Larkin's studies from
the British Telecom Communications Program show that 92 percent of
employees want to hear news from supervisors, instead of top
executives or a union.

A survey taken at AT&T , Exxon Corp. , Hewlett-Packard Co. and
General Motors Corp. showed that 78 percent of employees prefer that
the news come directly from their supervisors. If the executives can
win over the supervisor first, before any changes were made, then the
supervisor can more likely win over the employees. By treating the
supervisor like one of the employees, a problem is bound to arise.
But if the supervisor's superiority is recognized, he or she can
directly deal effectively with employees, Larkin said.

Use Face-to-Face Communication

Executives need to let employees know that they are a valued,
necessary part of the company, thus giving them a positive perspective
of the corporate center. This can be achieved through liberal use of
face-to-face communication, Larkin said. From a survey of Fortune 100
companies, Larkin found that only 18 percent of the companies used
face-to-face communication; however, 74 percent of the employees of
these organizations prefer it to print, video or electronic news.

Videos are the most flawed, yet most common information outlet
for communicating corporate change, Larkin said. When employees know
that a big change is on the way, a gathering to show a video only
allows them to vent their concerns together, propose new worries to
each other, and influence and intensify their emotions. Employees are
not easily fooled; they want to hear straightforward facts from a
human being, not a video of an executive trying to soften the blow of
a big change with a false sense of camaraderie, Larkin said.

Print communication has one advantage over video, Larkin said:
the information is communicated in a one-on-one format.

Tell Employees the Facts

The last aspect of Larkin's plan, communicating the facts of
change, comes down to the number one thing employees want to know:
what is happening in the company and how it will affect them. Values,
which executives usually center information around, belong in action,
not in communication. While many communication studies point to the
importance of message repetition and consistency, Larkin said that the
"blatant communication of a value usually signals its insincerity."

As an example during his conference presentation, Larkin
pretended he was going to a dinner meeting at someone's house, and
when he got there, he said, "Don't worry, I have excellent values and
I won't steal anything from you." Will the owner of the house feel at
ease with his guest's strong values, or will he be constantly watching
Larkin to make sure he doesn't steal anything? (Larkin, 212/551-1772;
Conference, 212/759-0900; McGraw-Hill, 800/722-4726)