Who is best to communicate what and when?

17 October 2017 Alex McDonald


Change happens for a multitude of reasons, whether that be in response to external conditions, to improve organisational performance and efficiency, or to achieve the reduce the gap between the current and future desired performance of the organisation.  Regardless of the reason, change happens constantly and as a result, we may feel a sense of change fatigue.

Change fatigue takes place when too many changes are happening at once and we are asked to implement multiple new initiatives at the same time. We feel tired, exhausted and despite our best intentions, sometimes fail to implement changes as we feel they may not result in positive outcomes. It may also result in us interpreting the underlying reason for the change incorrectly. This is important as the interpretation we give, as managers, to the reason why change is occurring impacts our employee outcomes as managers.

For example, a study by Balogun & Johnson (2005) found that the sense making that managers do around the change contributed to positive and negative outcomes. That is, when the change was perceived as necessary and helpful, employees reported more positive outcomes such as positive staff attitudes towards the change, more open communication style to their employees, and greater inter-divisional communications. Yet the opposite was true when managers interpreted the change as negative. That research study also found that senior managers have the ability shape the sense-making that other managers create around the change through open communication, and using targeted approaches that are individual to the manager. This approach will enable managers to align their reason behind the change with the intended reason rather than the unintended and misaligned reason.

Who sends the message is also important for change to be successful. This is because research by Allen, Jimmieson, Bordia & Irmer (2007) found that implementation related and job-related messages are best received by employees through their managers, however strategic changes should be communicated by senior managers for the best outcomes. This is because ‘trust’ was important to how employees received the information.  Consequently, in all change efforts, it is critical to ensure your message is sent by the most appropriate people and is received by employees at the right levels to ensure the best outcomes. 



Allen, J., Jimmieson, N. L., Bordia, P., & Irmer, B. E. (2007). Uncertainty during organizational change: Managing perceptions through communication. Journal of change management7(2), 187-210.

Balogun, J., & Johnson, G. (2005). From intended strategies to unintended outcomes: The impact of change recipient sensemaking. Organization studies26(11), 1573-1601.