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October 2, 2023

Change Management Communication: 5-Step Plan + Template


With all the uncertainty in business today, leading through change is a clear priority for many organizations. The challenge is that so much change management is poorly handled largely because of one simple misstep – not taking change communication seriously enough.

The scale of change going on in companies today is endless. New strategies, digital transformations, transitioning from paper to electronic records, mergers and acquisitions, HR platform rollouts, new operational processes, and so much more. Too often, organizations spend so much time on the change itself but very little on communicating the context and meaning behind it for employees. And without employee buy-in, the chances of that change taking root and flourishing are slim.

Our organization has had a front seat alongside many leaders as they roll out and navigate change, and we’ve learned a lot from those experiences as to what works – and where the classic stumbles often occur.

Here are our five-step best practices, including real-life examples and templates you can use as you plan and implement your next important change effort.

What is Change Management Communication and Why is it Important?

Change management communication is the process of building awareness and support for organizational change. It helps stakeholders understand what’s changing and why, and how it will affect them. It delivers timely information and materials, ensures stakeholders receive information about what’s important, and provides ways to share feedback and ask questions.

Whether you are changing technology, business practices, leadership, or a combination of things, change management communication is essential to helping people move from where they are today to the desired “future state.”

Change Management and Communication Follow Similar Processes

The industry Standard for Change Management defines a multi-phase process that professional change managers use to strategize, plan for, and execute organizational change. It identifies the impacts across the organization, focuses on how changes will affect employees, and outlines a consistent set of strategies and plans needed to help the organization achieve its goals. The approach is informative as you think about documenting the key information you’ll need and creating your communication plan to support a change.

  1. Evaluate change impact and organizational readiness by doing the following:

    a. Clearly define the change and vision for the future – What is changing and when, where will changes take place and why, who needs to change and what do we want the future to look like?

    b. Assess all the factors related to the change – What risks, goals, culture, and other changes are happening, and what other internal and external factors could influence them?

    c. Analyze all the stakeholders affected – Who is accountable, how are different groups and roles affected, who is being impacted the most, and who might be resistant to the change?

    d. Consider how the organization operates – Once a clear vision of the future is developed, how is it different from the way the organization operates today and what risks are there in moving to the future state?

  2. Formulate the change management strategy – This includes approaches for resources, communications, sponsorship, stakeholder engagement, learning and development, measurement, and sustainability for the change.
  3. Develop a detailed change management plan – Spell out action steps and timeline to accomplish the strategy.
  4. Execute the change management plan – Monitor the implementation, measure outcomes, and adjust ongoing activities as needed to continue reinforcing adoption.
  5. Complete the change management effort – Evaluate outcomes against objectives, design and conduct a lessons-learned evaluation, and gain approval to close the project once successful.

Creating a Change Communication Plan

Like the process outlined in the Standard for Change Management, creating a change management communication plan starts with a deep understanding of the organization, stakeholders, and change impacts. The goal is to support the business objective by helping stakeholders understand the change, how they will need to adapt their day-to-day responsibilities, and what is expected of them.

By ensuring a consistent flow of information, engaging stakeholders, and continually managing feedback, change communication helps people feel more comfortable as they move to the future state and adopt new ways of working.

The communications planning process involves the following steps similar to the change management process described above:

Step 1: Assess the Situation, People, Channels, and Needs

If you are working with change management partners, they are likely responsible for a stakeholder analysis, which summarizes the levels and types of impacts on different roles and functions. If a stakeholder analysis is not available, you should work with the change sponsor or subject matter expert in each function to uncover the critical information needed for communications planning. It’s critical to analyze the mindset of the full team impacted by the change. You need to know what their concerns and challenges will be, so you’re grounded on how best to go about the behavior change you’re seeking.

As you assess the situation, people, channels, and needs to prepare for developing a change communications plan, be sure to:

  • Know your employee audience and who will be most affected – To be able to plan appropriate and customized communication, you need details of the changes happening to each audience and when.
  • Understand what’s changing and why and document the case for change – The “what” and “why” of the change are key components of your messaging to all audiences. Click below and try this tool to capture your information:

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  • Define the vision for the future and how it aligns with the business plan – The organization has a reason for making the change and the vision explains this in terms employees will understand. Try the tool below, “Paint a Picture of the Future,” to help guide your vision.
  • Identify the “pain points” that the change plan addresses – The difference between how people operate today vs. the “future state” should be reflected in your messaging to help people understand what to expect and areas that will change the most.
  • Identify communications channels needed to reach the audiences – Keep in mind that any touchpoints stakeholders may have with their leaders or the organization, including face-to-face huddles and operational meetings, can be used to deliver and reinforce key messages.

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Step 2: Create the Change Communications Plan

The most effective change communication gets employees bought in and motivated to drive the change you’re seeking. This means employees understand what new ways of working are needed from each of them, and why. Any internal communication plan can build awareness of what is happening and promote its benefits. Change communication plans must do that and more – it must help people see where they fit and provide answers to their deepest concerns, such as:

What does this mean to me and what do I need to do?

Behavior change happens one person at a time and the more your communication can connect on a personal level, the more effective it will be.

This doesn’t mean your communication team should offer therapy or coaching to every employee. However, you will be most successful with an approach focused on individual needs as well as overarching general communications. Consider:

  • What do frontline employees need to know as they experience and deal with the expectations of change?
  • What will help their leaders answer their questions and connect team members to their roles in attaining the ultimate goal?
  • What framework can you use to ensure your communication and messages can adapt to audience needs as transformation moves forward and continues to evolve along the way?

Your plan should support the behavior change with communication that gives stakeholders the information they need when they need it, and equips leaders to guide their team members through the process. The change communication plan includes the following key sections:

  • Objectives based on the business goals (what success looks like) – Like any communications effort, change communication plans should align closely with the business objectives for the change. These objectives can be explained in a story or graphic to help everyone connect with the vision for success.
  • Desired behaviors for employees – These may vary by role or function and should be observable (ideally measurable, e.g., use of a new tool or software) to demonstrate adoption of the change.

Consider using a template like the one below to help lead a discussion with your change sponsor on what you want each impacted group to know, feel, and do as a result of the change. This insight can be included in your communications plan to help guide your messages and communication strategies. 

Example Audience types


What I want them to Know


And Do as a result of the communications

All employees





<Insert additional audience types as needed>





  • Key messages – You’ll need core messages explaining the why and what behind the overarching change and vision. Without a why and what, employees have difficulty processing change and instead view it with skepticism. It’s also important to have audience-specific messages to support key milestones. For example, customized messages for field engineers would be timed to the rollout of a new process, or to explain training plans and provide timing and expectations for their role in consulting with the field.
  • Communication strategies and tactics – This section summarizes the key activities you’ll implement to support the change for all categories of stakeholders. It might be organized by target audience (e.g., leaders/frontline employees), or by change initiative (e.g., phases of a rollout).
  • Editorial calendar – An overview of your plan for delivering relevant information to stakeholders at key points in the change effort. It summarizes the message themes and the channels used to deliver them, aligning timing with key milestones in the program.

Editorial Calendar Template:

An editorial calendar showing monthly communication themes aligned with key change milestones captures your plan at a glance and helps leaders understand how communications are reinforcing key behaviors.







Key milestones






Monthly content focus/theme






Leader communications






Graphics (such as posters, digital signage, field guides, etc.)






Intranet or internal resource page






<Insert others unique to your initiative>






  • Formal and informal two-way feedback channels – Whether you use existing channels or create new ones, this “must have” could include online mailboxes, suggestion boxes in a field office, or a defined process for frontline leaders/change champions to invite and respond to employee feedback. The organization must actively respond to feedback from all channels and use it to guide communication, often through the communications team.
  • Cadence of measurement – Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure business progress, and the communications team should regularly report on measures such as engagement with tools, participation in key events, feedback received and responded to, etc. Measure your progress using this dashboard template:

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  • Input and ongoing feedback – Be ready to evolve your activities to meet changing needs and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of communication efforts. This will be easier if you engage regularly with those on the front lines of the change – whether through focus groups, surveys, or periodic input meetings with a cross-functional work team.
  • Action plan – A game plan outlining specific activities and timing for executing tactics in the change communications plan. It details the deadlines and people responsible for certain steps including leader and legal review of content and design, printing or other production, mailing, distribution, and delivery of presentations or information to employees. Get the action plan template at the end of this post, or skip down to it here.

Step 3: Prepare Key People for Their Critical Influencer Role

Leaders at every level of the organization – from frontline supervisors to middle managers and senior executives – need to champion change and lead their teams to adopt new behaviors. For any change to be successful, leaders from every stakeholder group must be active and visible in leading their teams and reinforcing progress. After all, employees can easily tell if a supervisor is on board with the change, and if that leader is on board, it’s far more likely the employees will be, too. We’ve seen many organizations make the mistake of letting frontline leaders share their skepticism or concerns about change, and it’s a recipe for failure. Best practice research confirms what employees want to hear from leaders during change, including:

  • The business reasons for the change, risks, and competitive information from senior leaders who are responsible for the change.
  • Personal impacts of the change and what it means to them from their immediate supervisors.

In addition, employees often turn to influential peers across the organization because of strong relationships, experience, skills, and commitment. These influencers can be enlisted as “change agents” (or part of a “change network”), trained as communicators to carry messages forward into the organization, equipped with information, and asked to share feedback that they hear from their coworkers. It’s critical, though, that these influencers are authentic. If they are seen as mouthpieces or spies for leadership, their impact falls apart. In identifying and training change agents, it’s important to select employees who believe in the change overall but also aren’t afraid to share candid concerns or questions. These types of employee leaders have the best chance at establishing credibility and moving their teams to action.

These Official and Unofficial Leaders are the Drivers of Change

In best-practice organizations, the tone for change is set at the top, with the executive team sharing clear expectations for the importance of the change and the responsibility of all people managers in making the change happen and consistently communicating about it. All people leaders also need tools, training, and accountability to reinforce the change plan and ensure its success. This can be hard work but so necessary and can’t be shortchanged. The bottom line: organizations that simply announce the change and do little to continually communicate about it, gain feedback, and evolve are setting themselves up for failure.

To set leaders and change agents up for success, top leadership and communication teams need to collaborate to define their communication role and ensure they are equipped with information, tools, training, and support. These key steps should be a component of every change communication plan:

  • Evaluate communication capabilities of leaders – Consider their communications experience and knowledge when choosing the tools and training to help prepare leaders for their change role. For example, supervisors with minimal experience may be best served by a more basic approach, while senior leaders will find messages and toolkits familiar. You also can use a leadership communication skills assessment to determine their needs.
  • Assemble a network of change agents, including peer influencers – Early in your planning, define what this group will be asked to do, how much time it will take, and the support to be provided. Share this information with managers and supervisors in each stakeholder group and ask them to nominate influential employees to participate. With leader approval, invite the individuals to participate, starting with a kick-off meeting to share expectations.
  • Create tools to help them deliver critical messages – Develop a toolkit for leaders and change agents with communication tools suited for their specific situation and audience. Core messages, communication tips, slides, handouts, infographics, posters, FAQs, and even communication content (e.g., email announcements) can be provided to support communication with their teams. Toolkits can be customized and updated periodically as the program progresses.
  • Brief them on the tools and provide more training if needed – Conduct a briefing or webinar that explains the change, key tools in the toolkit, and how to use them. This will have the greatest impact if their senior executive reinforces the importance of their communication roles. Keep in touch with participants to understand how they are using the tools and what is most helpful (gathering input to guide future activities). Provide coaching as needed on key communication concepts and tools.
  • Identify feedback channels and reinforce response expectations – Responding promptly to employee questions and feedback is one of the most important change communication responsibilities. Leaders and change agents need to know which feedback channels employees can use, the response process being followed, and specific expectations for them to answer employee questions. If a response process doesn’t exist, create and implement one. Be sure this information is in the toolkit and reinforced consistently.

Step 4: Execute the Communications Plan

When you receive input and approval on your change communication plan and messages, it’s time to take action. Be sure to brief key communication contacts (such as internal communications editors, intranet managers, and video resources) about your plans so they are ready to provide support when needed. Also, give a heads-up to anyone who will be tapped to deliver messages to employees, so they know their role, what’s coming and when.

Because change programs must evolve to address needs that emerge during the process, expect to evolve your plans and adapt your materials to the changing needs of the projects and stakeholders. Your efforts are more likely to be successful if you follow a few guiding principles:

  • Be consistent and purposeful about messaging – Ensure everyone receives the same core messages and understands the importance of using them. Be consistent and also use the same core messages in internal communications materials, graphics, and intranet content.
  • Keep leaders at the forefront – Employees are closely watching their leaders and looking for guidance and direction as changes progress. It is up to the communication team to provide leaders with the latest information and tools – and ensure they understand their important role – to keep employees informed.
  • Communicate often with a focus on what employees want to know – Be sensitive to the concerns of frontline employees and what they need to know to deal with uncertainty and changing circumstances. Provide updates when available and be clear about what is in progress. Address myths or rumors with facts and share information in channels most likely to reach them (including providing updates that leaders can share with their teams). Help guide your communications in times of change with this tool:

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  • Listen carefully and respond consistently – Monitor feedback channels and ask employees what they’re thinking to uncover questions and concerns to address in communication. Set a standard for responding to employee questions or feedback within 48 hours, even if it’s just to let them know their input was received and you are working on finding an answer. Guidance and talking points for handling feedback should be provided to leaders and change agents as well.

  • Celebrate work done in the previous system and highlight successes – While it is good to communicate about the “future state,” it’s also important to acknowledge the achievements of the past. This can help employees feel their efforts are appreciated here and now. As changes roll out and successes are identified, be sure to highlight people who are adopting new ways of working and the positive outcomes they are achieving. Ask change agents and leaders to be on the lookout and bring you success stories you can share.

  • Plan for recognition and ongoing engagement – Work with different functions as needed to align on ways to recognize and reinforce progress and adoption of change. The communications team can provide visibility through internal communications channels, for example, but recognition programs and engagement surveys may be owned by human resources or another team.

  • Remember that it takes time and consistent reinforcement to achieve lasting change – Your communications and recognition activity should continue long after the rollout. By reinforcing key concepts and successes in internal communication and ensuring leaders are equipped with updated messages and leader tools, you’ll help employees see ways the change is taking hold and know their efforts are successful.

Step 5: Evaluate What to Stop, Start, and Continue

After a project launch or at key milestones, gather input from leaders, change agents, and your cross-functional team of advisers to understand what communication is working well and what could be done better to meet employee needs. Ask the tough questions and probe to understand how employees are feeling, what challenges they are facing, and what they are worried about.

You can uncover important information in day-to-day conversations, input meetings, follow-up surveys, or stakeholder interviews. Consider using these tips to help you listen for what's not being said and ask questions to ensure understanding so you can formulate ways to revise your approach to better meet employee needs.

In addition to anecdotal feedback and insights from people on the front lines, some of the things you can use to evaluate your efforts include:

  • Communication metrics – What tools are employees using most (e.g., intranet pages or software tools)? Which activities are most popular? What is the most used feedback loop?
  • How are employees handling the change? – Use a pulse survey of approximately five questions to consistently poll employees on their knowledge, acceptance, and adoption of the change. Compare your results across employee groups and locations to identify topics of concern and adjust communications accordingly.
  • What is getting in the way? – Watch for trends in questions asked, information requested, or comments made and probe with leaders and change agents to understand issues people are facing. Share information with project leaders to prompt possible adjustments to address issues and communicate updates as appropriate.
  • Is the change actually happening? – Look for whether the critical changes that need to happen are actually happening. For instance, we worked with an organization that analyzed performance metrics after the strategy was launched. Within a few months, many of their KPIs moved from red to green, a clear way of showing that the change effort was indeed taking root.
  • Lessons learned – Many change efforts are done in the spirit of continuous improvement and learning, and your communication plans should be no exception. Learn from your evaluation and adjust your messages, tools, and communication cadence to respond to stakeholder needs.

Change Management Communications in Practice

Here are some examples of ways that we at The Grossman Group have helped clients understand stakeholders and needs, identify change communication strategies, and support advancement of organizational transformation.

Case Study 1: An Exemplary Transformation Communication Plan

To implement an industry-endorsed approach to safety management, a multi-state organization deployed a large transformation team to align its structures, processes, and roles across multiple operating companies. They identified nearly 20 workstreams to advance the work and the change management team conducted stakeholder analyses for each workstream.

The analysis determined the level of impact for employees in a variety of functions such as construction, engineering, employee health and safety, field and system operations, human resources, maintenance, and planning. The stakeholders included leaders and employees at the corporate level and in the state-operating companies.

The safety management communication team was responsible for an overarching change communication plan and day-to-day support for individual workstreams. Through detailed interviews with leaders, they identified what was changing, why and when, and the desired behaviors to achieve workstream goals. The team also consulted communication and state-level leaders to select the best communication channels and identify potential challenges at the local level.

This research identified the audiences, key messages, milestones, and timeline to inform the communication plan, and helped set the strategy for supporting state communication teams. The final plan included specific messages for the overall safety effort and key workstreams, infographics to illustrate the process and benefits, leader communication toolkits, and an alignment strategy with monthly updates from state-operating companies.

Case Study 2: Preparing Leaders to Communicate Transformation

A long-standing scientific organization experienced multiple pain points in its traditional methods for developing and publishing its standards. In response, the organization identified the need for a new approach to a number of processes, as well as systems, technology, and talent to improve efficiency and enhance collaboration among its highly-skilled staff. With the vision defined, the organization identified key people to help identify solutions to achieve their transformation.

The organization needed its leaders to understand the vision, explain it to their teams in a clear and relatable way, and align around the ultimate goal that had been set by a select group within the organization. A leader prep meeting briefed 95 leaders on the plan, outlined role expectations, and introduced a toolkit with leader tips and key messages plus several tools to share. Following the briefing, working sessions for leaders in four divisions talked about what the transformation would mean for their teams, anticipated employee questions, and started planning for the upcoming employee launch.

Following the prep meeting, leaders used the materials to prepare their teams for the plan’s launch and encouraged involvement in eight solution teams tasked with identifying next steps. More than 100 employees volunteered to serve on the teams that were formed following the launch and together developed rollout plans for implementation over a period of two years.

In Conclusion

Change management communication is essential to building awareness and support for organizational change. Built on key information about what is changing and why and who is most impacted, it helps stakeholders understand what to expect, what their role is in the change, and how they can help the organization be successful.

What big changes are ahead for your organization and are you ready to put a best practice Change Communication Action Plan in place? Download this free editable template, which aligns with the content in this post, to guide you.

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