Change Management Learning Center - managing change library

Welcome to the Change Management Tutorial Series

Home   |   Bookstore   |    Training   |  Tutorials   |   Benchmarking  |  Webinars

Email this page to a friend


Senders and Receivers - understanding why some communications work and others don't

Many project leaders or project managers appreciate the critical need for communications during change. In fact, many project leaders believe that "change management" equals "effective communications." To complicate matters, many project teams also believe that the primary messages employees want to hear are centered on the project (what is happening and when will it happen), and that employees want to hear these messages from them.

In this tutorial, we will examine the concept of senders and receivers, and uncover how project teams can undermine their own changes by communicating the wrong messages with the wrong people. We will reveal who employees really want to hear from, and how to make these communications work.


Defining Senders and Receivers

Every change can be viewed from the perspective of a sender and a receiver. A sender is anyone providing information about the change. A receiver is anyone being given information about the change.

Senders and Receivers are often not in a dialogue at the onset of a change. They talk right past one another. What a sender says and what a receiver hears are typically two very different messages. For example, if a supervisor sits down with an employee to discuss a major restructuring project within the company, the supervisor may be enthusiastic and positive. She may cover all the key messages including the business reasons for change, the risk of not changing and the urgency to change the organization to remain competitive. The supervisor may even emphasize that this is a challenging and exciting time. However, when the employee discusses this change at home over dinner, the key messages to his family are often:

"I may not have a job."

"The company is having trouble."

Copyright Prosci and Bill Cigliano


The supervisor may spend 95% of the conversation talking about the business and 5% talking about the implications to the employee. At home, the employee is more likely to spend 95% of the time talking about the impact on him or her personally and 5% on the issues facing the company. The consequence is that much of the key business information communicated by the supervisor to the employee in this first conversation is not heard. It is overshadowed by concerns related to job security and fear about change.

Many factors influence what an employee hears and how that information is interpreted. Examples of these factors include:

  • Other career or educational plans
  • Situations at home or with personal relationships
  • Their past experience with other changes at work
  • What they have heard from their friends or work colleagues
  • Their current performance on the job
  • Whether or not they trust or respect the sender

Now multiply these factors by the number of employees who are the receivers of change messages, and add even more variables as each person could have a different change agenda at work. You can begin to appreciate the challenge faced by many businesses as they communicate about change to their employees.


Preferred senders

Based on Prosci's change management research studies beginning in 1998 and running through 2011 (findings are compiled in the report Best Practices in Change Management - 2012 Edition), employees have consistently preferred two primary senders of change messages. Much to the surprise of some projects, the project team is not a preferred sender. The first preferred sender of change messages is the person who the employee views as "in charge," typically a senior manager or executive. From this person, employees want to hear:

  • Why are we changing?
  • What is the risk of not changing?
  • How does this change align with our vision and business direction?

The second preferred sender is an employee's immediate supervisor. From this person, employees want to hear:

  • How does this impact me and our group?
  • How will this change affect my day-to-day responsibilities?
  • What's in it for me or WIIFM?
  • What's in it for us (our team or workgroup)?

So while some project teams have made an assumption that employees want to hear about the "what and when," the research data clearly shows that employees only express interest in the "future state" once they have built an awareness of why the change is happening, and have made a personal choice to engage in the change. Any communications from the project team about new processes, new systems or the project schedule fall on deaf ears until employees have heard from their preferred senders regarding the topics they care about most.


The reality of miscommunications and misunderstandings

The sender and receiver concept illustrates another very clear lesson when communicating about change, even when using the right people to communicate the right message: what the sender says rarely matches what employees hear, especially the first time around. Many experienced change management practitioners follow a prescribed communications plan to share information about the change, including involving the right people. However, many managers and supervisors do not assess what their employees actually heard, nor do they understand how that information was processed. They merely complete a required communication activity, check off a box, and return to their already busy day. A poor assumption is that "employees heard me and understood exactly what I meant."

More likely, employees heard only a fraction of what was said, and their translation of that message will be unique to their personal situation. Some employees may have heard more than what was said, or will make up answers to questions that they do not understand. The answers they make up are typically worse than reality. This information spreads through the background conversations (or rumor mill) until employees are now comparing "official communications" against what they heard from their work colleagues or friends.


Implications for practitioners

What does this mean for change management practitioners? Realizing that "what receivers hear and what senders say" is not always the same is the first step to understanding that change management cannot be reduced to a set of activities or steps without the addition of thoughtful guidance on the part of the change manager who can scale, customize and adjust as necessary. Understanding the underlying phenomena of communications, including the sender/receiver concept, causes us to rethink our traditional modes of communicating. Change management practitioners, managers and executives alike must not only be clear in their communications, they must also listen to employees to understand how their messages are being received. They then must be willing to communicate over and over again, and be willing to correct misinformation that naturally spreads during change.

A common complaint from senior leaders is that they feel like they repeating themselves. In reality, they may have given the same message to multiple groups, but communicated to a specific employee group only once. The most common error an executive makes when communicating about change is not communicating enough. Your role as a change practitioner is to coach executive sponsors to stay the course, be consistent, and continue communications with employees from inception to implementation. They play a critical role in building awareness at the onset of a change, and reinforcing that change all the way through implementation. Gone are the days of simply "kicking off the change" and leaving it up to the project team to make it happen. Change practitioners should plan on key messages being repeated up to five to seven times before they are truly heard by employees.

A final lesson that can be learned from the sender/receiver concept revolves around the mode or method of communicating with employees. For more than 10 years, the research data clearly points to face-to-face communications as the most powerful and most effective. Even in this age of social media and electronic devices that never leave our side, the basic elements of communication remain: only a fraction of the message is carried by the content of the message. A primary component of communications is carried in the tone and body language of the sender. Credibility and respect are conveyed not simply through words, but intent, and intent is sensed, not simply heard. As difficult as face-to-face communications can be, they have stood the test of time as being the leading channel for communicating about change effectively.



Change management communication is only effective when employees have internalized the change messages and can begin the transition process. They need the opportunity to hear from their preferred senders, to process that information over time, and ultimately to make a choice to move forward. Once this occurs, employees are prepared to hear more from the project or change team about the "what" and "when." Then they are ready for training, ready for the details, and ready to make a positive contribution to the success of the change.


In this tutorial series:

  • Module 1: The psychology of change - understanding the guiding principles of effective change management
  • Module 2: Senders and Receivers - understanding why some communications work and others don't
  • Module 3: Resistance - understanding a phenomena that is natural to all of us
  • Module 4: Authority for change - the role of leadership during change
  • Module 5: How do the values of an organization impact the approach to managing change?
  • Module 6: Incremental vs radical change
  • Module 7: The right answer is not enough
  • Module 8: Change is a process





Email this tutorial to a friend




Email this tutorial to a friend
Ask a Prosci analyst
Order online - secure server Order the Change Management Toolkit or Change Management Pilot for complete change management assessments, templates, guidelines and plans



Prosci Change Management Certification

Program highlights:
  • Apply the methodology as you learn it on a real project
  • Learn from experienced executive instructors
  • Become part of a change management community
  • Earn 2.4 CEUs, 24 PDUs and 23.5 HRCI recertification credits
  • Walk away with products and course materials worth over $1000

Download the certification program brochure

Upcoming sessions:

  • December 10 - 12, 2013: Portland, OR area - OPEN
  • December 10 - 12, 2013: Chicago, IL area - OPEN
  • December 10 - 12, 2013: Denver, CO area - FULL
  • December 10 - 12, 2013: New York, NY area - FULL
  • December 17 - 19, 2013: Washington, DC area - OPEN
  • December 17 - 19, 2013: San Francisco, CA area - OPEN
  • December 17 - 19, 2013: Orlando, FL area - FULL
  • January 7 - 9, 2014: Chicago, IL area - OPEN
  • January 7 - 9, 2014: Washington, DC area - OPEN
  • January 21 - 23, 2014: Orlando, FL area - OPEN

Visit the certification training page

Email a certification inquiry or call
970-203-9332 to register today.

"The best training class I have had in years. Goes way beyond the strategy and framework and focuses on real world problems and the tools to solve them."
- Jennifer J., April 2009 participant

"This was the most effective and engaging course I've ever taken. I feel that I can truly use this knowledge in my personal and professional life immediately."
- Lisa S., February 2009 participant

"Awesome - truly one of the most beneficial programs I have ever attended - immediate application on the job!"
- Robin S., March 2009 participant

"This program absolutely over-delivered my expectations. I now feel more prepared and better equipped to do my job."
- Paul S., January 2009 participant



Offerings for applying Prosci's change management methodologies:


  • Change management certification ($2800)- 3-day program where you bring a project you are working on and apply all of the assessments and tools as you learn them - taught by former fortune 500 executives at locations across the US - includes over $1000 in products, including the Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, the Change Management Toolkit and the Change Management Pilot Pro 2012
  • Train-the-trainer ($3500) - learn how to teach Prosci change management training programs in your organization
  • Onsite training - bring Prosci to your location for 3-day certification programs, 4-6 hour executive briefings, 1-day manager programs or 1-day employee programs - call +1-970-203-9332 for more information

Methodology tools:

  • Change Management Toolkit ($389) - hardcopy 3-ring binder presenting Prosci's change management methodology, includes templates, checklists and assessments for managing the people side of change (includes USB drive)
  • Change Management Pilot Pro 2012 ($489) - online tool including Prosci's change management methodology, eLearning modules and downloadable templates, assessments, presentations and checklists
  • Change Management Guide for Managers and Supervisors ($189) - tools to help supervisors engage and coach their direct reports through change (includes 4 copies of the Employee's Survival Guide)
  • PCT Analyzer ($149/$349) - web-based tool for collecting PCT Assessment data, analyzing results, identifying risks and developing action steps

References and books:

  • Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report ($289 / quantity discounts available) - journal-style report with lessons learned and best practices from 650 participants, presented in an easy-to-use format - reads as a checklist of what to do and what not to do
  • Change Management: the people side of change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - a primer for anyone involved in organizational change that addresses why manage change, individual change management and organizational change management
  • ADKAR: a model for change ($18.95 / quantity discounts available) - the definitive work on Prosci's ADKAR® Model
  • Employee's Survival Guide to Change ($14.95 / quantity discounts available) - a handbook to help employees survive and thrive during change, answers frequently asked questions and empowers employees to take charge of change



*** Prosci also offers leadership packages - groupings of products at discounts that offer you some of the most helpful and common combinations of Prosci change management resources



Email this page to a friend


Email a Prosci analyst or call 970-203-9332 with questions about the methodology, its application, or finding the right resources to support your change management activities.




*** Register to receive free news announcements and tutorial releases ***



Tutorials | Bookstore | Benchmarking | Articles | Training | Register | Webinars | Resources | Home

Copyright Prosci 1996-2014
Prosci and ADKAR are registered trademarks of Prosci Inc.
Send comments to a Prosci analyst


Contact Prosci
email: Prosci email form
phone: 970-203-9332 or 800-700-2831