Communication Best Practices: Are You Jeopardizing Your Change Project?
Humans, as a species, seem hardwired to resist major change. We tend to like things just the way they are. Change can be upsetting, cause anxiety, and even anger. As a result, most of us don’t like to talk about it. And therein lies the problem if you’re a change management team leader or executive sponsor.
And as if change isn’t hard enough, getting communications right can be even harder. Good communication practices require clarity, consistency, and constancy. In other words, effective communications in a change management project need to be clear, consistent, and done on a regular basis.
“We’ve already told everyone we’re changing. What more do we need to say?”
Plenty. In fact, it’s hard to over-communicate when you’re attempting to make a major change in business processes or technology infrastructure. Unfortunately, many organizations will do all the talking at the beginning of a project, laying out what’s being changed and why. And then fall silent.
Many organizations assume that the less employees know the better. Often, some managers and C-suite professionals maintain that the reason they don’t want to do a lot of communicating about a change project is to “protect the employees from unnecessary stress.” After all, if people are uncomfortable with change, why keep talking about it?
The fact of the matter, however, is that most employees do want to hear about what’s going on. They want to be kept in the loop. In most cases, there are certain fundamental things all employees want to know, including:
- The business reason(s) behind the change
- The goals of change
- How employees’ organizational roles will change
- How the change will affect them personally
- The timeframe for change
- How they can get help
For change to be successful, the change management team and executive sponsor need to:
- Know who will be affected – who are the stakeholders and how are each of them impacted by the change?
- Build a case for supporting the change – why is it important and how will it help the organization and its constituents?
- Paint a picture of what success will look like so people can visualize the end state and understand what successful transformation means.
- Make sure the right messages are communicated by the right people through the right channels.
Good communications start with listening
One thing we often hear from our clients is that “everyone in the organization agrees our current systems need to be replaced and they are onboard with this change.” This perception can cause executive sponsors and project managers to assume that there won’t be any resistance to change and that additional communication isn’t needed.
Lack of insight and understanding into employee motivation and resistance is what typically trips up many change initiatives. Awareness and empathy are crucial for communicating in a way that can move constituents from resistance to acceptance.
The best way to find out how employees will react to change is by asking them. A key component in any communication strategy should be a benchmark survey conducted prior to launch and surveys throughout the project to get continual feedback. Ask workers to convey their questions, concerns, and preferences for the changes being proposed. Most important – actually listen. Nothing is more demoralizing or unproductive as telling employees “we want your input” and then doing nothing with it. Instead, actively seek out input from all stakeholders, acknowledge it, and carefully consider it. This will go a long way in helping people feel that they are part of a change rather than enduring change as something being forced upon them.
Communication best practices include these four key components that collectively champion the change and address concerns:
- Individuals chosen to communicate must do so clearly and concisely, presenting a positive message that is consistent and compelling. They must be respected and authentic – someone who has “skin in the game” and is not just a mouthpiece.
- Messages must be crafted to be relevant to each stage of the change process – not just announcing the project or its conclusion.
- Messages must resonate and connect with stakeholders and contain the information employees want to hear. They must answer employees’ most pressing questions. Since different stakeholder groups have different needs, this means crafting appropriate messaging for each group.
- Delivery methods should suit the circumstances and needs of both the sender and the receiver – face-to-face meetings, emails, online chats, and phone calls, to name a few.
Good communications take skill, practice, and persistence, but effective communication is the key to successful change management. The time and effort it takes to get it right will provide a big pay-off with the successful adoption of change.