Credit unions are increasingly under pressure to evolve their offerings and processes to attract and retain members. That can mean big changes internally — from introducing new digital services and systems, to navigating a merger — which can be unsettling for employees.
Keeping everyone focused and productive is critical to ensuring successful transitions. That’s why it’s essential to communicate effectively when managing change with your credit union workforce. To reassure employees, create alignment, and increase forward momentum, you’ll want to plan carefully for how, what, and when you communicate.
Over years of helping high-performing businesses through change, we’ve seen what works. Here are some best practices for communicating change you can immediately put into action.
1 – Clarify your change strategy
Employees will adapt more quickly when they understand the vision and rationale for changes. To get started, create a communication plan that answers common questions:
“Employees are under increasing stress, and their engagement and understanding of their employer’s chosen strategic choices is imperative.“1
- What is changing and why?
- How will employees and members benefit?
- When will changes occur?
- How will employees/members be affected? What will they need to do?
- What support is available? (e.g., FAQs, tools, training, leadership roadshow deck)
- What do senior leaders and managers need to know?
Remember that what you say, and how you say it affects real people, so make it personal. Don’t stand behind compliance language that sounds rigid, generic, or worse, confusing. Your messaging needs to convey a tone and language that will resonate with employees as reassuring and ownable.
2 – Select an executive champion
Employee surveys consistently show that “knowing management values it” is key to building buy-in for a corporate change. Engage a senior leader to stand as an executive sponsor for a change initiative. They can provide a meaningful voice to advocate why the change matters and how everyone can contribute to making it successful.
Encourage your executive champion to share key messages at a virtual town hall meeting, in a video clip, and in a written testimonial you can use in various change communications. They should also share a progress update to motivate employees.
3 – Make it easy to learn about the change
Put your communication plan into action well ahead of the change. Uncertainty fuels resistance, and you can prevent some pushback by ensuring teams feel well informed early on, so they can more confidently contribute. Promote important details in email, internal websites, team huddles, help desk call scripts, even posters for employees in the office or branch. If appropriate, reinforce your change strategy with training programs.
As a reminder, make sure your messaging is clear and empathetic. It’s not enough to just ‘inform’ everyone. Particularly if your credit union is going through a merger, you want to help both existing and acquired employees feel reassured and supported.
4 – Create a shareable “pitch” about the change
Video is an engaging, personal way to get the word out. Create simple, brief clips to share on internal sites.
To promote the key vision and benefits of a major change, consistency is key. All your written communications and outreach from leaders should incorporate the same core messages. Collaborate with project stakeholders to create a concise story or pitch (a simple paragraph is fine) that’s engaging and easy-to-remember. It should highlight the core purpose of the change, how employees can benefit, and include a call to action for how people can contribute.
5 – Recruit influencers and share successes
In many credit unions, every line of business has its own way of doing things. To help you advance a broad company change, take a grassroots approach. Identify the thought leaders and opinion makers, and develop a written outreach plan to connect with about ten people who can have the greatest impact on whether the change will be successfully adopted.
Be sure to also engage any influential voices who may resist the change. Listen to understand their concerns, seek their ideas, and find opportunities to involve them to win their support.
Along the way, share successes about the change, and any teams or individuals going the extra mile. According to Change Management scholar, Dr. John Kotter: “Wins are the molecules of results. They must be recognized, collected and communicated—early and often—to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.”2
6 – Promote inclusivity and collaboration
Encouraging everyone to have a voice is a powerful way to speed adoption of big changes. And sometimes the best ideas come from unexpected places. Invite employees and even agency partners to provide feedback about changes, and share ideas on ways to improve processes and your change communications.
Gaining multiple perspectives can help you gain the empathy and insights needed to more effectively communicate — especially for complex procedures, sensitive topics, or negative news.
Credit unions face increasingly fierce competition from megabanks and neobanks, and change is often a vital part of growth. Effectively communicating change to employees is a critical success factor. The right communications at the right time will increase the power of your most valuable resource — your people — to make change a meaningful driver that strengthens your credit union as a whole.
1 Market Stresses Are Forcing Mergers, Credit Union Times, March 2021
2 The 8-Step Process for Leading Change, Kotter