Last week I wrote about the 4 ways to maintain the momentum of cultural change within an organisation, and I’ve been asked by one of my blogs readers to expand on how to provide effective communication through an organisational change. Many managers do all the basic communication work, but fail to engage the stakeholders of change. It’s not enough to inform: communication of change must be two-way for engagement to take hold.
How change managers fail to communicate
Communication of change is commonly seen as a secondary requirement. This isn’t because change managers fail to recognise its importance, but that they fail to recognise the difficulty in getting it right. The result is that communication of change is undertaken by usual methods: email, noticeboard, notes at team meetings, change booklets and leaflets, etc.
When change communication is one way like this, people become disengaged and organisational change meets resistance.
How to get change communication right first time
The primary reason for change communication is to provide clarity of the organisational change. Change managers have a duty of care in this respect. They must ensure that people know what the aims of change are, how it will evolve, its impacts, and likely outcomes.
The first step to achieving this long list of aims of change communication is to plan its delivery. All the questions need to be asked and answered in this planning:
- Who will deliver the communication, and to whom will it be delivered?
- How will it be delivered?
- When will communication of organisational change progress be communicated?
- Where will messages be delivered?
- In what format will the communication be best delivered, and what is the aim of each communication?
The first inclination is to send information out by email. While this is efficient, it is hardly engaging.
Four methods of effectively communicating organisational change
To communicate change effectively, change managers must get out and ‘meet the people’. Here are four methods of the effectiveness of communication of change:
1 Ensure change sponsors are committed and involved in the communication process
Get project sponsors and senior executives involved in the planning of change and the planning of communications. When senior executives are involved in change management planning, they are more inclined to be involved in change communication.
2 Communicate a personalised message
Use language that is understood by the receiver of the message. Issues are experienced differently by different people, and self-interests will also be different. Tailor communication style according to culture, need, age, and experience.
3 Use one-on-one coaching sessions effectively
Face-to-face coaching should be used whenever possible. It gives change managers the opportunity to gauge motivation and engagement, and the employee the opportunity to ask questions. Team meetings, where open discussion is encouraged and notes not simply presented, are also very effective in this regard.
4 Always seek feedback
Always ask for feedback. Encourage discussion of ideas, issues, and problems encountered through organisational change. Use surveys, frequently asked questions, role plays, ‘brown bag lunches’, roadshows, and training events as opportunities for feedback.
The four elements of successful communication of change
A communication of change program requires four elements to be effective:
First, when organisational change is being contemplated it may be beneficial to consider branding the change. Naming the change initiative makes communication easier and helps to focus enthusiasm.
As well as having a strategy for the change, change managers should produce a strategy for the communication of change. Executives and senior managers need to be involved from the start to give the whole change process credibility and authority. Strategy will include producing a set of objectives for the communication plan, how to mitigate risk, how the communication is phrased, and the key messages of organisational change.
In line with strategy, a plan for the communication of change should be designed to reinforce commitment across the organisation and at all levels. The plan will tackle resistance to change, detail methods of message delivery, and produce details that answer the who’s what’s when’s and how’s of change communication.
Finally, effectiveness of communications will need to be measured. This may be by way of surveys of stakeholders, feedback sessions, testing, and benchmarking.
Strategise and plan communication of change to encourage commitment
Communication of change doesn’t simply happen. It needs to be planned within a strategy framework, supported by senior executives, and allow problems to be discussed and worked through. Coaching and training is used as methods of communication, with one-on-one sessions and team meetings further enhancing the on-boarding process. Use communication of change to create stakeholder ownership, and organisational change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.