We Have A Communication Plan – Isn’t That Enough?

Missed TargetI have worked on a number of ITSM projects where it has been refreshing that it was recognised that an organisational change management (OCM) capability was required in order to ensure project success.

However, it is all too soon evident that it has been assumed by management that all that OCM needs to undertake is communications.

As a result the OCM capability gets under resourced or is just given lip service.

Targeted communications is a key OCM activity but communications alone will not move the workforce from the current state to the desired future state. You can read about the communications aspect of OCM here.

Organisational change management also includes sponsorship, coaching, proactive resistance management, training and reinforcement. Without it, you will miss the target and the project will fail.

The Prosci® Best Practices in Change Management 2012 Benchmarking Report involving 650 organisations stated the number one contributor to project success was active and visible executive sponsorship. Frequent and open communication about the change was second and a structured change management approach was third.

Participants cited ‘active and visible sponsorship’ four times more frequently than any other contributor to success. The need for executives and senior leaders to be involved and visible during all stages of the change, supportive and committed to the change itself, and knowledgeable about the need for organisational change management is essential for project success.

In contrast, the survey also identified the biggest obstacles to project success. Whilst ‘ineffective change management sponsorship from senior leaders’ was number one (inline with the contributors to success), in second position was ‘insufficient change management resourcing’. This matches my experience and I believe that insufficient resourcing is a direct result of the belief that OCM is just about having an effective communications plan.

So what does active and visible sponsorship mean?

Firstly you have to identify your sponsors, assess their competency and then prepare them for organisational change management.

A Primary Sponsor should be identified and this is usually the executive that initiated the project. The managers of all impacted groups should be also identified and then any senior leaders between the Primary Sponsor and the managers added. These are the people that need to be on board for the change to succeed. You now have your sponsorship model.

For each sponsor you need to determine whether they support or oppose the change and determine their sponsorship competency. This will tell you whether the sponsor is a challenge, an advocate, a barrier or a threat to the project and will inform your engagement with each of the sponsors. There are various methodologies to assist in sponsorship assessment such as Prosci, AIM etc.

Next, you need to prepare your sponsors. This could include training in organisational change management depending upon their competency. It will definitely include education about the business drivers for the project / change and the risks of not changing. Unless the sponsors are change advocates they will not be able to transition their people from the current state to the future state. You will need to work directly with managers who show early signs of resistance. Sponsors will need coaching and mentoring throughout the change to enable them to be effective change management coaches.

Change activities and accountabilities for each of the sponsors will need to be developed. Sponsors will be required to:

  • Build awareness with employees about why the change is being made (what created the need for this change)
  • Share the risk or costs if no change is made (be open and honest with these communications)
  • Show how this change aligns with the overall direction of the organisation
  • Share the goals and personal expectations for this project
  • Empathise with employees regarding the difficulties and additional work that will be required during the transition
  • Recognise the good work that employees have done and stress the positive benefits of the future state
  • Celebrate successes with employees; be present and visible
  • Listen to employees and encourage feedback; be willing to answer the tough questions
  • Build excitement and enthusiasm around the change; show personal commitment
  • Be willing to communicate to employees repeatedly to reinforce the message


Throughout the project sponsors will need ongoing support and continual access to the OCM team. They will need to be provided with the key messages and methods by which they can communicate to their employees. The OCM team will be in constant touch with the sponsors providing updates on project progress and ensuring the managers are sending consistent messages to impacted employees. The OCM team should help address areas of resistance and any critical issues as they arise.

As you can see, there is a lot more to OCM than just a good communication plan. Impacted employees need to see their managers walking the talk and modelling the desired behaviour that is required of employees as a result of the project.

I am sure you can think of a project that delivered continual communications to the organisation and yet the project did not have the desired results.

Regular communications via email and newsletters alone will not convince the organisation of the need to change. Apart from the messages not coming from the right people, the DELETE key is just all too easy.

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