EFFECTIVE CHANGE COMMUNICATION: 3 WAYS TO DO IT WELL
Now, more than ever before, organisations are talking about ‘transformation’. Whether it’s embracing digital tools, reviewing roles and structures, or concentrating on culture; effective change communication is firmly on the agenda.
Communicating change can be tough though – messaging needs to convey complexities and technical details, but still be accessible and inspirational; engagement needs to start early, but not so early as to alienate or frustrate; and the audience needs to be both targeted and very broad.
Throughout my career, I have seen a variety of approaches to effective change communication, each with their pros and cons. However, the most successful campaigns all share three core values – openness, consistency, and leadership.
With that in mind, here are what I believe are the three keys to effective change communication.
Openly owning the outcomes
Any lasting change is going to be expensive. In addition to the financial cost, it takes a lot of time and energy to make it stick. No organisation would make this investment without expecting some kind of benefit.
Yet, when it comes to communicating change, organisations often shy away from the real reasons why. Obviously there needs to be a level of discretion and confidentiality. This is particularly true when it comes to redundancies, buy-outs, takeovers, etc. However, team members will appreciate knowing the actual case for change. In fact, most of them will work out the real motivation (or near to) by themselves. This is how dishonesty and evasiveness can destroy trust and engagement.
Also, most people have worked out what euphemisms like “operating efficiencies” really mean, so it’s best to avoid them.
At this point it’s vital that you have a clear communication strategy and all stakeholders are on board. This will define what should and should not be communicated, when and by whom as well as the reasons for the communication and methods. Your communication strategy will set you up for success.
Consistently covering the channels
There is no silver bullet when it comes to effective change communication – it’s an exercise in accumulation. To encourage stakeholder engagement, multiple communication activities are required, across several mediums.
Your internal communications teams will have a good idea of which communications channel works best for your organisation and will be able to give advice. Messaging needs to be consistent across all channels, while still allowing tailoring to the channel and audience.
Consider this: what are the 3 to 5 things people need to know to be successful on ‘Day 1’ if no other information is communicated? This will usually cover what will be different, when it’s changing, and who to contact for more information.
Messages must also reach the less formal communication channels. In this instance, having a network of Change Agents or advocates can be invaluable.
Letting the leaders lead
Guiding teams through change is one of the core responsibilities of a leader. In an attempt to ‘control the message’, leaders are often not allowed to … well… lead.
Managers and executives are one of the main sources of information and change communication in the organisation. Great leaders are great communicators but they need to know all of the information in order to do a good job. It’s critical managers understand any changes impacting their team and are actively engaged in communicating these. But what if your management or senior executive team is not entirely on board?
It is important to recognise that leadership takes many forms. Even with senior management on board, effective change communication also involves other change agents who can be helpful to spread the message.There will be a number of ‘informal leaders’ within the organisation. Utilising these individuals is a useful method in effective change communication.
Often seen as subject matter experts, these individuals can derail change plans if not sufficiently informed and engaged. By giving them a role (e.g. as a Change Agent), you allow them to maintain their expertise. Often they will become the most vocal advocates as they recognise you have respected and trusted them with important information.
By Shane Mitchell, who has extensive experience supporting complex change programs – technological, structural, and cultural – he builds strategies and materials that successfully increase understanding and drive adoption
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