No matter what the scenario, change is hard; but attempting change without also communicating change can lead to really hard times for an organization. Without well-structured, effective communication, your people may “fill in the gaps” with their perceptions and personal renditions of the change. Unfortunately, traditional change management communication often falls short. In fact, 50% of project failures are related to ineffective communications.
The good news is there’s a way to keep this type of failure from happening, and it all starts with the story behind the change. This story comprises the core of a truly effective change communication strategy, and addresses a range of rational and emotional thoughts that affect each stakeholder. The change story answers the following questions and clearly defines both the why and how of change: Why is the change happening? What is the risk of not changing? What is the vision of the future state? What is the reward for changing for me? What do I need to do to engage?
With your change story as your foundation, it’s important to keep a handful of guiding principles in mind to maximize the pace of change through communication:
1. Master two-way communications
Give your employees a voice for change – and really listen when they take advantage of having the microphone. Change affects all levels of the organization, so make sure your communications take that into account, both in tone and delivery.
2. Show them you’re serious with big, symbolic shifts that walk the talk
When change appears to be only skin deep, it shows. Steer clear of superficial, low-impact gestures that might be misconstrued. Consider a single, rallying idea to capture the essence of your change and to drive new ways of communicating and working together.
3. Blend information (rational comms) with inspiration (emotional comms)
By answering the above five key questions to create your change story, you’ll naturally have a mix of rational (e.g., why is the change happening?) and emotional information (e.g., what is the reward for changing for me?). It’s crucial to balance and blend them, being vigilant of going too far in one direction or the other.
4. Break away from the tried and true to capture imaginations
Change must be inspired and led – not “managed” – so be cognizant of relying too heavily on “industry standard” communication practices that might come across as flat. Sure, a newsletter or company-wide conference call may need to be part of the mix, but pair those with other activities and communication vehicles that are uniquely suited to your organization and the changes you are facing.
5. Make sure the vehicle suits the target
Know your audience, inside and out. Know where they go for information, how they share information and what’s really valuable for them. Once you pinpoint that, meet them where they are with communication vehicles that will catch their attention. An in-person CEO roundtable won’t cut it when your staff mostly work from home.
6. Find your catalyzing idea
Revisit your change story and dig a bit deeper into the reason behind your change and what this change means for your organization. Chances are, there will be a nugget of an idea – a concept that you can rally around and that can serve as the core of your change communication efforts. Trust us, you’ll know it when you see it … and if you’re not sure you’ve found it, keep digging.
Accelerating change with communication is not only possible, it’s absolutely crucial. By keeping the change story at the core – with a keen eye on communicating “what’s in it for me?” – an effective communication strategy can showcase the alignment of your organization’s goals with your people’s interests. Couple that with a catalyzing idea, some imaginative delivery vehicles and the power of emotion, and impressive results will surely follow.