Changing the Way We Communicate About Change
Organizational transformation communications has been a dominant and reoccurring theme in our ever-evolving business world for more than 40 years now. Back in the ‘70s. as the first waves of global competition hit the U.S. shores, it was politely referred to as “restructuring to streamline operations and align revenues with expenses.”
Fast forward to today and organizational transformation communications has evolved like a butterfly from an inexact science to what many experts and graduate schools now consider a prerequisite for successful change management.
Yet as far as we’ve come, it should not come as any great shock when I say that few companies communicate change well. That’s a real shame because without effective communications even the best change management plans won’t fly. So what is it that you need to know about communicating large scale organizational change?
- Change communications is the lever (not the driver) that can make or break organizational change efforts.
- As with all things communications, if the transformation program isn’t managed well from the start, the messaging won’t save you.
- Organizational change communications isn’t so much about telling employees what the future holds and how it will be different, it’s really about managing fear. If you don’t get to the WIFIM (what’s in it for me) quickly, human nature will kick in and most employees will automatically assume that they are not part of the plan.
- The most effective change communications efforts start when the transformation plan is conceived and evolves through each road map iteration. They don’t overwhelm people with needless information, they’re honest and transparent even when it comes to bad news, and they articulate a clear future vision from day one.
Because every transformation is different, prescribing a “one-size-fits-all-approach” isn’t doable. But here are some basic best practices that you should look for when considering how to implement in a change communications plan:
- A visible program champion who communicates well in any format (especially video). Articulate program advocates who are well respected are a huge advantage provided they are used correctly. The old saying, “like the leader, more likely to follow the plan,” is much more effective than an avalanche of emails, PowerPoint swim lanes, and internal social media posts.
- A stable road map. Communicating without a sold road map is like watching a hamster on a tread mill. Nothing can move forward without message-worthy milestones or events. The longer the road map development process drags out, the more likely communications will become a “put the wheels on the bus while it’s in motion” exercise.
- The vision thing. Articulating a future vision is essential. Don’t expect anyone to buy into the program if you don’t know where you’re going and why it’s so important to get there. Government leaders do this so well – just look at what John Kennedy’s moonshot speech in 1962 did to convince a skeptical nation that the race to the moon was worth the risks.
- Focus on the “why” before the “what.” Simon Sinek’s mantra, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” is so important and obvious to the success of transformational communications. Yet many companies overlook common sense rationale in the rush to just do it.
- What’s Your Story? If you don’t have a one-page storyline or a narrative that articulates what you want to be, overarching goals and benefits, you will be stuck forever at the starting gate.
- Don’t let 10,000 words do the work of 100. Cultures that are going through change often overwhelm employees with information that is mostly ignored. Transformational messaging should be tight and to the point. Actions and benefits should be clearly identified. Get in, get out and only communicate when necessary. Use the messaging platforms that you know work well in your organization, and don’t go to the well too often.
If you are thinking about organizational change and want to learn more about Sprezzatura Management Consulting’s change communications capabilities contact us here
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