Make change communication work
Change is a fact of life. In companies, it is a natural response to competition and shifts in the socio-economic environment and a route to gaining advantage and building business performance proactively. But, for change to be successful, managers need to ensure that employees both understand and support it.
Employees, on the other hand, have to actively seek information and contribute to a constructive dialogue on change implementation.
Change in companies happens when people choose to change behaviour and stick to this new behaviour until it is really implemented. Change communication is about motivating people to want and embrace the change. At the heart of change communication is the ability to motivate leaders and employees to engage in change management.
Badly planned and insufficient communication is referred to as one of several reasons for unsuccessful change project delivery. In a large Study (Nordisk Kommunikation “Intern Kommunikation 2007”) covering more than 12 000 employees in Scandinavian companies, only half considered themselves sufficiently informed about workplace changes. Another study (Mannov, 2008) indicates that Danish employees spend on average half an hour every week speculating and discussing, trying to interpret unclear messages. Communication, here defined as “shared understanding”, is key in any change management effort. It is impossible to over-communicate when you are asking your organisation to change.
9 steps to creating engagement
Communication is without doubt one of the toughest issues in companies and employees are very rarely satisfied with it. With today’s information overload it is a real challenge to get the important messages through. It requires planning, structure, coordination and allocated resources. The following 9 steps may help you when planning your change communication:
1. Create a sense of urgency
Harvard leadership guru John P. Kotter states in his book Leading Change that many organisations vastly underestimate the need to build sufficient urgency when preparing change programmes. He says that many managers are keen to move on and talk about the visions for the future too quickly. Honest and factual communication about the challenges help to explain the thinking behind the change strategy. Take the temperature of your team regularly. Don’t just assume that everyone understands and agrees.
2. It is not enough to communicate the vision – check that it is understood
Clearly communicate the vision, mission and the objectives of the change management effort. If managers do not help people understand how the changes will affect them, people will make up their own stories, often with
a negative slant.
3. Create trust
At the heart of change is fear of the unknown. Effective change communication can build trust – by reinforcing daily reality or illustrating something that has gone right. Unattainable promises make people suspicious.
4. Communicate honestly, fast and regularly
Communicate everything about the changes as soon as information is available. Make very clear that details may change later. Never wait until all decisions are 100% in place or delay communicating negative messages – this will only create mistrust, anxiety and rumours.
5. Create dialogue on “What’s in it for me?”
People on the floor often find that the overall messages in change projects are hard to understand or relate to their own situation. Customize communication based on what the audience needs to know.
6. Keep the kettle boiling
In most change projects there are periods of vacuum – when analyses are being made or systems developed. This silence will quickly lead to uncertainty and rumours. To avoid this, there must be regular communication whether there is something to tell or not.
7. Take the lead, show the direction and be persistent
Management communication without action is only empty words. To engage employees in change, a good leader is in the frontline, showing the way by example.
8. Build strong networks of people who embrace change
Change spreads through creative teams and networks. Provide ample networking opportunities for people who embrace new possibilities. Good communication that shares learning and experiences and creates a strong sense of a common goal will lead the way for less change-oriented colleagues.
9. The plan is everything
When project teams are asked what made the communication of a change project successful, the answer is often: a well-structured communication plan. Even if reality never turns out the way we expect, a plan will keep you on track.
Recommendations for effective change communication
• Communicate consistently, frequently and through multiple channels
• Communicate all that is known about the changes as soon as the information is available.
• Help people understand how the changes will affect them personally.
• Leaders must be available to answer questions quickly. If you don’t know the answer, find out.
• Create a dialogue and provide significant time for people to ask questions ,request clarification.
• Be proactive. Never delay communication as this may cause rumours to spread.
• Provide opportunities for people to network and share ideas about the change.
• Monitor and communicate progress. Celebrate each small win publicly.