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Communicating change and involving staff and volunteers

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Communicating with staff and volunteers and ensuring you involve them in the change process is key to a smooth transition.

Successful change management requires effective communication and the involvement of people who will be affected. However, this can often be easier said than done. This section sets out what you will need to consider in shaping the communication to and involvement of others in your change management initiative. 

How you communicate and involve people depends on two aspects of the change:

  • the speed of the change
  • who will be affected.

The speed of change

If the organisation is facing a significant crisis and may not survive without immediate change, you need to move very quickly. This will have implications for the extent to which you can involve people in developing a shared solution.

In the most extreme of these situations, you will need to maintain good communication but may not be able to involve staff. Take a look at organisations in crisis.

However, in most change situations you will have the time to communicate to and involve people effectively. Look at communicating to stakeholders for a framework to help in communicating effectively.

Look at good communication - managing change for guidance to ensure you are all communicating effectively.

Who is affected by the change?

You will also need to consider who is going to be affected by the change, to what extent they will bring a useful perspective and if they might be able to influence or disrupt plans. If someone  has the potential to seriously undermine the change and/or if they are going to be affected by the change, ensure they are fully involved and communicated with. 

Take a look at the stakeholder analysis for guidance on how to identify who will be important and influential and key considerations in communicating.

Tips for good communication when managing change

What message are you communicating? 

Do you really know what you want to say? Be clear about what it is you are communicating and the message you want others to receive. Think it through in detail and then plan the words, the timing, approach and style of the communication. Remember that the words you use are only one part of the message – consider how you say it and how you behave. See ‘Leading Change’ for understanding the impact of behaviour on messages.

Consider how change affects others

“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Upton Sinclair 

Look beneath the obvious. Of course, your suggested change might be logical and work in theory and in a meeting everyone might agree with it. But  if in reality the change is going to negatively affect something they hold dear, then they will find a reason not to support the changes.

Choose your moment to communicate the change

Part of good communicating is choosing the moment when your audience has the time and space to hear what you want to say. A message communicated to someone rushing to catch a bus, or preparing for an important meeting is unlikely to be heard.

Choose your method of communication to explain the change

Sometimes a phone call is fine. Sometimes a quick email might work. But if you want to be sure, meet with people face to face. It takes more time, but it is the best way to know your message has been received. And it could save much wasted time and misunderstandings later.


Communication is a two way process. Ask open questions and listen to responses. Note also the non-verbal communication. What does the tone of voice or body language tell you? What does your's say to other people?

Check understanding and keep talking

Don't assume the other person has heard what you think you have said. Ask open questions to check they have the same understanding as you. And make sure you have plenty of future opportunities to carry on the conversation.

Consulting volunteers about change

Managing change with volunteers can present particular challenges which are quite unique from those experienced by paid staff.

Richard Spence from The Change Triad shares his experience learned from managing change in a charity that relies on 400 volunteers. He describes seven stages of the consultation process.

1) Believe the change

Volunteers are often wary of change. They may have initially volunteered because they identify with the charity and stayed because it works the way it does. So ask yourself:

  • Do I strongly believe this change will improve the service?
  • What are similar organisations doing?
  • Am I prepared to be patient, flexible and to follow through? After all, change could take a year or more.

2) Talk about the change

First, say what you think the issue is and what you are thinking of doing and why:

  • Check your thinking with others
  • Ask people to help you test your idea
  • Flag your thinking in your newsletter or other internal communications.

3) Try the change out in small scale

Run a pilot scheme or experiment for a limited time (maybe a month) with small groups who have agreed to help. This gives you the chance to:

  • see the change in action
  • follow up with each group personally
  • look clearly at the results: what do they tell you?

4) Report back on the change

The pilot project will almost certainly give you ideas about how to make the new system work better. When sharing the results of the pilot project:

  • report back to volunteers in every way you can
  • be honest and positive
  • invite comments – and reply to them
  • go out and talk to people about what you learned and why you believe in this.

5) Involve everyone in the change

Ask volunteer leaders to introduce the change to the whole organisation. Explain to everyone this is only for a trial period - three months, for example.

6) Consult and refine the change

At the end of the trial period, consult widely. You can do this through:

  • questionnaires completed during the trial
  • internal communications – talk about the trial and ask for feedback in emails, newsletters and noticeboards 
  • set up meetings and group discussions for anyone who’s interested.

You will hear criticism but you will also uncover good ideas and surprising allies. Really listening and being flexible will help you to refine your thinking further but it’s also important to remember why you set out on this course.

7) Final review of change

Ask yourself:

  • What came out of the pilot and the trial period?
  • On balance, is the change better for service users?
  • Is the change better for volunteers?

If the change was not for the better, be honest - thank people for trying the new way and then think again.

If the change has improved things, ask yourself these final questions before making a final commitment to the new approach:

  • Have you discussed and listened thoroughly?
  • Have you sharpened your initial scheme so it is fit for your organisation?
  • Is your leadership team prepared to go with you?

Go for it!

There will always be some who disagree with the change and genuinely dislike what you are doing. But if your conviction carries you forward as strongly as ever, then be a leader and go for it.

Keep listening and talking

Change does not stop when you introduce it. It takes time to bed into organisations. During this phase, remember to:

  • stay in close contact with volunteers to listen, persuade and show by your own actions that the new way is better
  • make sure the change is knitted into training for new volunteers
  • stay alive to new ideas that make the change work even better and build them in.

However difficult things seem at first, eventually the change will itself become ‘the way we’ve always done it!’

Page last edited Apr 13, 2017

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