The greatest obstacle to effective workplace communication in a change management situation is feeling of disconnection between the change leader and those who are or will be impacted by the change.
A good communication strategy is at the heart of any successful change management process. The more change there is going to be then the greater the need for effective workplace communication - and especially about the reasons, the benefits, the plans and proposed effects of that change.
It is important that an effective workplace communication strategy is defined and actioned as soon as possible and then properly maintained for the duration of the change management programme.
There are 2 aspects to a change management communication strategy: firstly the balance between information content and emotional resonance; and secondly the stage of the initiative, in other words before the change and during the change.
The structural and content aspect of your communications
You will benefit greatly from the discipline of a programme-based approach to leading and managing your change initiative, as your effective workplace communication strategy will be based around the following:
Stakeholder map and analysis [everyone who is going to be impacted by the change and your assessments of those impacts and their reactions]
Blueprint [the clear definition and statement of the changed organization]
Vision statement and pre-programme planning process [the high-level vision and the follow-up pre-planning process to unpack the vision and analyse the impacts]
Programme plan [the steps that will be taken to make the changes and get the benefits - a schedule of projects and projects and initiatives]
The key FACTUAL questions that your communication strategy needs to address
What are the objectives?
What are the key messages?
Who are you trying to reach?
What information will be communicated?
When will information be disseminated, and what are the relevant timings?
How much information will be provided, and to what level of detail?
What mechanisms will be used to disseminate information?
How will feedback be encouraged?
What will be done as a result of feedback?
The key EMOTIONAL questions that your communication strategy needs to address
In terms of the emotional resonance aspect of effective workplace communication, John Kotter makes the point that great change leaders are great at telling visual stories with high emotional impact.
Kotter illustrates this the anecdote of Martin Luther King who did not stand up in front of the Lincoln Memorial and say: "I have a great strategy" and illustrate it with 10 good reasons why it was a good strategy.
He said those immortal words: "I have a dream," and then he proceeded to show the people what his dream was - he illustrated his picture of the future and did so in a way that had high emotional impact.
William Bridges focuses on the emotional and psychological impact and aspect of the change - and poses these 3 simple questions:
(1) What is changing?
Bridges offers the following guidance - the change leader's effective workplace communication statement must:
- Clearly express the change leader's understanding and intention
- Link the change to the drivers that make it necessary
- "Sell the problem before you try to sell the solution."
- Not use jargon
- Be under 60 seconds in duration
(2) What will actually be different because of the change?
Bridges says: "I go into organizations where a change initiative is well underway, and I ask what will be different when the change is done - and no one can answer the question... a change may seem very important and very real to the leader, but to the people who have to make it work it seems quite abstract and vague until actual differences that it will make begin to become clear... the drive to get those differences clear should be an important priority on the planners' list of things to do."
(3) Who's going to lose what?
Bridges maintains that the situational changes are not as difficult for companies to make as the psychological transitions of the people impacted by the change.
Transition management is all about seeing the situation through the eyes of the other guy. It is a perspective based on empathy. It is management and effective workplace communication process that recognises and affirms people's realities and works with them to bring them through the transition.
5 guiding principles of a good change management communication strategy
So, in summary the 5 guiding principles of a good change management communication strategy are as follows:
Clarity of message - to ensure relevance and recognition
Resonance of message - the emotional tone and delivery of the message
Accurate targeting - to reach the right people with the right message
Timing schedule - to achieve timely targeting of messages
Feedback process - to ensure genuine two way communication
Failure reasons in change management are many and varied. But one thing is painfully clear. Any organisational initiative that creates change - or has a significant change element to it - has a 70% chance of not achieving what was originally envisaged.
The root cause of all this failure is lack of clarity and a lack of communication. This is what a Programme Management based approach to change is all about and why it so important.
Jennifer’s specialised skills include change management, communication, research and analysis. She is an experienced change communicator, having worked across a number of industries over the last 20 years in marketing, project management and change communication roles (Media, Advertising, Retail, Pharmaceutical).
In the last ten years, she has focused on the area of organisational change and is qualified at a PhD level. Her doctoral research investigated the different types of communication in organisational change programs, with a specific focus on organisations undergoing continuous change.
Jennifer says: "Some change programs can be really challenging to work with. Here are six tactics that change agents can use to create compelling conversations of change:"
"Despite a wealth of best practice books on the market on how to manage change, there still exists a desperate need to improve our change communication.
This is particularly important given the rate and prevalence of major change going on in business today. Change can be exciting, change can be born of opportunities, but change can also be very painful and messy for those involved."
The following article is a summary of findings from Jennifer's PhD research in change communication and some observations from her experience in managing change in organisations: