The Message Design Logics of Organizational Change

Author(s), Title and Publication:

Barbour, J. B., Jacocks, C. W., & Wesner, K. J. (2013). The message design logics of organizational change. Communication Monographs, 80(3), 354-378.


Stakeholder communication is vitally important to planned organizational change, because organizational change inherently involves stakeholders’ participation, such as rejection, acceptance, and support. As a result, the outcome of organizational change is influenced and even determined by communication and sense making between change implementers and stakeholders and among stakeholder themselves. As stakeholders inspect planned change and interact with others, they create messages for other stakeholders that articulate and negotiate concerns about the changes. This study attempts to reveal whether or not communication contexts, including stakeholders’ perception of need for change, attitudes towards a change, concerns of the change consequence, psychological connection to their organizations, and relative status of their audiences within the organization, affect the sophistication level of stakeholders’ message design.

In an experiment implemented across three universities in the U.S., the researchers used a hypothetical planned change scenario to elicit participants’ intended messages about the change. The findings suggest that the intensity of stakeholders’ beliefs about the change is a strong predictor of how sophisticated their message would be. And when stakeholders’ perception of need for the change, their favorable/unfavorable attitudes towards the change, their concerns about the change consequences, and their psychological identification with their organization are strong enough to affect the intensity of beliefs, these contextual factors will indirectly affect the sophistication level of their message. In addition, stakeholders will communicate more sophisticated messages to others, when their audiences have higher status within the organization.

Implications for Practitioners

During organizational change process, implementers should encourage more sophisticated messages among stakeholders, because doing so may improve stakeholder interaction and help unfold the change. Specifically, change implementers need to 1) create space for negotiation of discrepancy in ways that are motivating, 2) make sure that interaction-eliciting messages relate to stakeholders’ performances, connect to the norms of the organization, and provide information about the change while reducing stakeholders’ uncertainty regarding the change, and 3) consider stakeholders’ personal psychological connection to the organization.

Location of Article

The article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Posted in [Research Library], Change Communication and Management, Employee / Organizational Communication and tagged , , , , , , , .

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