Perception vs Reality


5 May 2021

Perception: Management controls the strategy roll-out communication.

Reality: Employees control the strategy roll-out communication.

Great change communication has never been produced by management. It might be that management conducts the roll-out, sets up the channels for the internal communication, points out key stakeholders, designs interview and workshop formats to gather insights for key messages and the ever so important core story and controls the rhythm for important timing in the communication plan. This is what management will typically do. But will this change anything? Will it control and change employees’ attitudes towards the strategy roll-out communication? It is an utterly fallacious objective.

Planning and structure play a vital role – indeed. Your odds of a successful implementation will significantly increase when designing an impactful change communication plan for the desired change project. Without the plan, chances are not great. Studies show that the chance of creating engagement and impact rises by up to 73%* when management focuses on employee strengths and employees participating actively in the roll-out communication, giving them tools (communication channels) to provide perspectives and anchor true initiatives to change the traditional top-down approach. And here is an important point: the traditional top-down approach is becoming less and less impactful.

The way management communicates reflects the culture

Traditional internal communication has been a one-way street with management controlling everything and with very limited two-way opportunities for the employee. As a consultant, you have always known that the coffee machine talk was essential to pick up any signals from the organisation besides the insights that were given to you from management. There was almost no formalised room for two-way communication in most organisations, and internal channels were even being edited by group communication controlled by management. But things have changed. Like the world outside the organisations. Communication has changed. Everyone can comment on everything. SoMe tools have been adapted by companies and, as a result, so have the habits from the outside. Communication channels are more unpredictable than ever, and many companies are today producing content for more than 8-10 platforms. And so are the employees.

From cases and studies we know that poorly managed communication is behind 50% of all failing change efforts. In our experience, there is a fundamental reason for this depressing number. And the answer is provocative and simple: we often fail to bridge the gap between management that pushes the change and the communication and the employees who are asked to adapt to the change. The gap between perception and reality is surprisingly obvious, and the scepticism and resistance we often see from employees pushing back on the change and the strategic priorities are even more obvious.

The way management communicates reflects the culture. If there is an honest and authentic culture, the communication will obviously reflect that. Sadly, for many companies, collective behaviour and communication controlled by management are often driven by conservative thinking. And if you try to control everything and please everyone, you will end up pleasing no one. Be authentic to win people’s hearts. Build common ground. Accept that the organisation in reality controls the understanding and communication of the change. Changing the conversations through simple and honest communication is truly fundamental to successful impact.

For management, this is the reality, and the best thing they can do besides accepting the “new” world of reality is to embark on this journey, keep the communication alive and let go. The organisation will always find the way forward.

* The Project Management Institute (PMI), Pulse of the Profession 2013

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