There are many facets of organisational change management but probably the most important is communication. This may sound obvious to many of you reading this blog but it is an area in which most organisations fail.
I don’t expect many executives or managers would disagree that communication is important so why does it get poorly executed?
There is no recognition that communication requires a plan. The development of the plan can require significant work. There needs to be an understanding of the target audiences and the nature of the change being undertaken. The nature of the change will determine the number of different audiences and the key messages to be delivered to each audience. Audiences could include front-line staff, executive and management, sponsors, customers, suppliers etc
Before the key messages can be developed, an understanding of each audience and their awareness of the change and their desire to change has to be understood. Otherwise delivery will miss its target.
The message will need to vary depending on whether the audience is highly resistant to the change or embracing of the change. The communication should empathise with the concerns and experiences of employees. For example, if the organisation is undergoing massive change, employees should know that you intend to make this change as easy as possible and that you understand how they are feeling
It is also important to note that the messages to each audience will change throughout the project that is being undertaken.
The timing, medium and method of delivery also has to be incorporated into the plan.
Timing needs to ensure that staff are not bombarded with communications that they have little time to absorb but that they are also receiving enough communication to feel well informed. Remember that key messages can need to be repeated 5 or 7 times before employees fully understand the communication they are hearing.
Mediums could include email, bulletins, social channels, team meetings, briefings, brown-bag sessions etc. Once again, an understanding of the target audiences will be necessary to determine the appropriate medium for their consumption.
The sender of the message is also important. Research has indicated that employees want to hear business messages about the change from senior management. These messages include how the change aligns with strategy, what the risk of not changing is etc. In regards to messages about how it will impact people on an individual level, the preference is to hear that from line management.
The communication plan that will be developed will cover who (audiences), what (content), when (timing), where (destination) and how (medium).
It will include the above for each stage of the change / project e.g. announcement of change, initial project stages, during build of the change, before implementation, during implementation and post implementation.
So, you can see that the communication plan is a detailed and comprehensive approach to communication. It is not about just sending an email out at the beginning of each week!
All communication should provide a feedback channel for employees. Employees should be provided with various channels to ask questions and explore the impact of the change on their roles and working conditions.
This could include staff meetings where employees can have open discussion, meetings hosted by external parties to gather feedback, anonymous feedback, one-on-one meetings, social media forums etc.
It is important that whichever method is used, that a two-way dialogue results. Even if employees provide their feedback anonymously, there has to be a response to the feedback publicly to demonstrate that the feedback is being acknowledged.
Throughout the change, employees should be continually asked how they are feeling about the change and due consideration given to their responses so that action can be taken and communication varied as necessary. Employees should feel consulted throughout the change and not that it has been ‘done to them’ without any opportunity for input.
Another aspect of communication that is often overlooked is the competency and capability of sponsors and middle management to transition employees through the change. Are they able to effectively communicate the reason for the change and the impact it will have on employees? Are they equipped to answer the questions that they will be asked by employees?
We cannot assume as these people are in management positions that they are effective communicators during periods of change especially if the change is of significant magnitude.
An assessment should be carried out of all sponsors and middle management to determine their capability and competency, and appropriate coaching plans put in place to support these people throughout the change.
The impact that managers can have on front-line employees is significant and will directly impact the engagement of employees in the change process.
During communication activities, which could include one-on-one meetings or team meetings etc., sponsors and managers should elicit feedback from employees and address any concerns. Again, sponsors and managers need coaching in order to do this effectively and interpret how employees are genuinely feeling so that this can be fed back to the organisational change team. This then allows remediation action to be taken if necessary to ensure that there is support for the change throughout the organisation.
Communication is a crucial aspect of organisational change. For many organisations, communication amounts to no more than a regular email update, the occasional presentation or briefing, or an entry in the organisational newsletter. This is not addressing the need of the various audiences and message senders in the organisation and will not result in getting everyone on-board. For a successful change make sure you take time to put together a communication plan as described here. There is no short cut if you want to recognise the return on investment from your change initiative.