For most of us, change is something we naturally avoid. Change puts us out of our ‘comfort zone’, forces us to learn new things, take on unwanted challenges and adapt to something new. We tend to eschew change in our personal as well as professional lives world, despite the fact that as humans, we possess the natural capability to evolve when faced with transition. In the workplace, organisations frequently ask employees to change by adopting new processes, trimming costs, expanding into new markets, merging with competitors and embracing restructuring. Specialised consultants are often used to develop and lead organisational change management programmes with their expertise in providing a structured approach that helps define and adopt new ways of operating. For companies undergoing significant change, a well thought-out communication strategy that integrates with the overall change goal is a vital component to drive successful transition. In order to change behaviour in employees, the employees themselves must be able to understand the need for the change. They should be aware of how the change applies to the entire organisation as well as to themselves individually. After working with a number of organisations on organisational, structural and procedural changes and building communication strategies to support these, I thought I would share a few of the lessons I’ve learned with regards to the management of change.
Have a coherent plan
Organisational change should start with an effective communication strategy. This should clearly define the business results the change is trying to achieve and how the communications will support this. It should identify stakeholder groups, methods of change measurement and the key messages, including when and how these messages will be proactively communicated to employees throughout the change process. Communication planning should start early in the change process so that rumours don’t get a head start. Unfortunately, communication teams are often brought into the change management process only when the rumour mills are in high-gear, resulting in reactive and ineffective dissemination of information. The communication priority during organisational change should be to share information with employees as soon as possible. It is important to be flexible with the communication strategy roll-out, as organisational change rarely follows a pre-determined calendar. Flexibility means being able to change tactics and direction quickly.
Above all else, the communication strategy must place a priority on honesty and use multiple-channels to deliver frequent updates during the entire change process. Communication should not only happen when there is something specific to announce. There should be regular appraisals of the current situation, tips, advice, the showcasing of change activities and the sharing of questions and answers whenever possible.
Communicate the vision
Communication activities during organisational change should focus on addressing a number of questions that employees will naturally want to know. It is important that the big-picture questions are addressed first so that employees understand the context and purpose of the change. Senior leaders, such as the CEO, are good for explaining the big picture, the business case for the change and its success factors. The messages around the vision should answer questions such as:
Answer: ‘What’s in it for me?’
The other important consideration when planning for communication during change is to answer the “How will the change affect me?” question that all employees will be asking. The messages in your communication strategy should address such queries as:
Prioritise face-to-face, two-way communication
When it comes to delivering the change message to employees, the most important thing to remember is that the more the change affects the staff’s lives – such as their income and job security – the more personal the channels must be to communicate. More often than not, change communication activities rely on one-way broadcast techniques of communication, telling employees through PowerPoint or emails what the transition will be and how they are expected to adapt. This method wrongly assumes that employees will just embrace the change and fall into line. Face-to-face communication is the most effective way to get employees to embrace change, convey the need for change, provide details about what employees are expected to do, describe what change looks like, and most importantly answer any questions. Face-to-face communication should include individual meetings, small employee gatherings, interactive workshops and training sessions.