We all know that a lot of organizational change initiatives fail or do not deliver the desired results. Yet we try the same approach again and again expecting different outcomes - the very definition of madness, according to Albert Einstein. More often than not, failure is the result of bad communication during times of change.
So how do you communicate change effectively to achieve acceptance, buy-in and continued performance? Especially, if the change has been defined without the involvement of the whole organization or frontline employees?
In a word = communication!
According to Innovisor, about 3 percent of the employees drive 90 percent of the organizational conversations.
The key ingredients:
- The core change story, an elevator pitch, and three key messages – telling the story of the change journey and destination; with flexibility to add team/local context. This change journey needs to be clearly mapped: starting point, destination, milestone markers, clear timelines, clear definition of success.
- A clear understanding of who your audiences and stakeholders are, and knowing what they need.
- Face to face communication: the world may be going digital, but humans remain humans. Leaders and managers who have the skills to communicate engagingly, honestly and in a timely way - fostering listening, dialogue and involvement. Leaders and managers who can translate the change story to team and individual context and lead by example.
- Most appropriate mix of communication tools and other channels for the organization: digital, analog– to reflect employee needs and preferences.
- Common sense and understanding of human behavior.
- Remembering that your organization wouldn’t exist without your people.
It is a myth that you cannot over communicate during periods of change. The fact is--you can. And if you do--you risk creating ‘noise’ which will drown out what’s important.
Don’t tell & sell….
Telling employees that they need to change or adapt and swap one set of attitudes and behaviors for a new set will not lead to successful change. To help people make sense of the change and make a successful transition means ensuring that their needs for honesty, support and involvement are met.
In fact, if we communicate effectively, we may flatten the change curve and accelerate the change accordingly. Yet it is important to understand that reaction to change is not linear – people may bounce around the change curve until they reach full acceptance.
In all communication efforts, think about what you want people to know & understand, to feel (attitude – eg acceptance, buy-in) and what action they should take (e.g: focus on day to day job; contribute to the changes; speak positively about the organization)
Change cannot be ‘cascaded’ from the top. Most organizational communication flows through informal channels.
It’s all about ‘me’
Whoever defines the change and desired outcome is thinking about the big picture, but to deliver successful change we need to be mindful that everything is about ‘me’ – what does it mean to every individual in an organization. Everyone needs to understand why there is a need for change. Everyone needs to know and understand the change story and understand their individual contribution as well as the impact this change may have on them.
This individual context and relevance cannot be delivered top down, or by the Communications team or by HR, or via emails or posters. It needs to be translated into context by leaders and frontline managers in every division, geography and team. And even in today’s digital world, face-to-face communication remains essential. This means leaders and managers need to be fully trained and equipped to communicate, to understand what people want from communication, how to build trust, how to manage themselves and others through change.
Outcomes and people focused internal communication practices led by Internal Communications professionals are key to success– this is the glue that holds the organization together, the way to achieve organizational alignment and a shared direction. Recognizing that we are human and will always behave accordingly will go a long way towards shaping effective change communications.