Need to Communicate Change in the Workplace? Focus on WIIFM to Gain Employee Buy-In

Sheryl Crow’s song “A change Would Do You Good” certainly isn’t about organizational change. But emphasizing how a change will benefit employees is an effective way to gain their support. That’s because every employee wants to know what’s the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).

Let’s say your company recently made an acquisition and needs to introduce new employees to the company’s HR programs, including benefits, performance management, and compensation. Employees naturally want to know answers to such questions as:

  • Will their doctors accept the new medical coverage?
  • What’s the new bonus structure?
  • Will they still be eligible to work from home?

When communicating change, answer WIIFM early and often to get employees on board. To do so, follow these three steps:

1. Analyze Your Audience

First, use segmentation to understand how the change will impact groups of employees. This technique will help you customize messages that highlight benefits specific to each audience. Here’s how to segment:

  • Map groups by change. Divide employees into groups based on how the change will affect them. Keep in mind that some groups may have little impact, such as simply understanding what’s happening, while others may be required to do something differently.
  • Determine the details. Next to each audience, bucket information that pertains to that group. First, outline what each group needs to know (what’s changing) and do (required action steps). Then, list how the change will benefit employees and be as specific as possible.

2. Articulate the Story

Next, incorporate information from your segmentation map to create a compelling narrative that includes specific messages for each group. By developing targeted messages that answer WIIFM, you’ll build a strong foundation to engage employees in change.

Follow these steps to construct your key messages:

  • Create an elevator pitch. Draft a concise message that clearly explains the situation: what’s happening, why, and what impact it will have on employees. Typically, this message is a three- to four-sentence statement that applies to all of the audience groups. The idea is to describe the essential information as if you only had an elevator ride to explain the situation to someone. (Think 30-second soundbite.)
  • Develop supporting messages tailored for each audience group. This step helps you fill in the details of the change while providing context specific to the impacted employees. Look for opportunities to highlight how the change will help employees.

3. Emphasize the Benefits

Now it’s time to leverage key messages and reinforce WIIFM every chance you get. This doesn’t mean repeating the same thing over and over again. Instead, you’ll want to identify ways to bring your story to life while highlighting WIIFM. Here are a few tips:

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Make the change tangible. Use the following ideas to weave your key messages into a mix of channels: articles, emails, brochures, and presentations. Each idea provides an opportunity to illustrate what’s in it for employees.

  • Create scenarios. The best way for employees to envision change is through real-life scenarios: brief stories that describe possible results. Scenarios help employees picture how the change will affect them and what they need to do. Example: You need newly acquired employees to choose a new health plan. Create clear benefit scenarios that help employees foresee how a plan could help them. How does the high-deductible plan work for Tara, the single millennial who does not visit the doctor often? How does the plan work for Jack and his family of five? 
  • Use comparisons. Ditch the long, narrative copy and go for something easier to read, like comparisons. They’re an effective method for communicating changes in a clear, simple, and transparent way. You can create a table to show the differences between options or share before and after descriptions. Example: The company’s changing its 401(k) plan, and you need to communicate the changes to employees. Use a table to show the new offerings versus the old plan. This way, employees can easily view how the new program will impact their retirement savings.

Employ Storytellers

Enlist change champions to help spread the positive word to colleagues. Change champions are people from across the company that agree to help build awareness and understanding about a change. These advocates can share personal stories while answering questions, gathering feedback, and debunking rumors. Here’s how to create a champion network:

  • Recruit champions. Identify influential people from across the company to be advocates for the change. Be sure the champions represent various areas of the business, such as function, role, and location.
  • Prepare champions for their role. The key to developing a champion network is to ensure that your advocates feel knowledgeable and prepared. Hold a workshop to ensure champions understand their role and know how to communicate the change story. It’s a good idea to provide tools like key messages, talking points, and frequently asked questions. These resources will equip champions to help employees understand what’s in it for them.

Create High-Touch Experiences

The more complex the change, the more you need to encourage dialogue — for employees to hear how the change will impact them and have an opportunity to get their questions answered. Activities that encourage conversation make it easy for employees to feel engaged and learn what’s in it for them. Here are two interactive ideas:

  • Hold informal Q&A sessions. Schedule time for a leader or a member of the change team to chat with employees. Lunches or coffee breaks provide the perfect setting to get employees to have a natural conversation about what’s on their minds. Be sure to prepare the host of the session with messaging such as talking points and frequently asked questions, so he or she can speak confidently about the change and help employees focus on its benefits.
  • Develop a board game. An out-of-the-box idea to help employees discover WIIFM is through an old-fashioned board game. This gives employees a chance to play while learning details of the change. For example, create a game designed to explain career paths after an acquisition. As participants play, they discuss how they can benefit from the different types of career moves and opportunities available at the new company.

When you’re faced with communicating change to employees, you need to focus on their needs and emphasize what the change means to them. To engage your audience, create compelling messages that answer WIIFM for the impacted employee groups and repeat the messages consistently and often.

David Pitre leads Davis & Company’s consulting team, which provides clients with support in employee communication and change management. Since joining the firm in 2005, David has helped leading organizations—such as BlackRock, Dun & Bradstreet, New York Public Library, PepsiCo and The Rockefeller Foundation—reach, engage and motivate their employees. As the firm’s measurement practice leader, he developed Davis & Company’s communication effectiveness model that helps clients demonstrate the value of their work.

An experienced speaker on communication issues, David has conducted workshops for The Conference Board, the International Association of Business Communicators, Society for Human Resource Management and the Institute of Communications and Advertising. He holds a bachelor’s degree in instructional media from Ryerson University (Toronto) and an MBA in design management from the University of Westminster (U.K.).

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