Article

Change Communication

An invitation to think differently

To succeed with change, you need to build a clear link between the strategic rationale behind the change and the personal motivators of those who need to adapt to the change. This means communicating a clear and explicit message – and this is where change communication enters the scene.

Generally, when organisations talk about implementation, they are referring to the very last phase of a project. This is the phase where the implementation is to install a change: A new strategy, a new and much better IT system or even a new KPI structure. Here, the focus is on the handover from top management to line managers, who are expected to accept the subsequent responsibility for the implementation. There is only one problem. It will probably not work.

From studies, we know that poorly managed communication is behind more than 50% of all failing change efforts. In our experience, there is a fundamental reason for this depressing number. We often fail to bridge the mental gap between the management who pushes the change and the employees who are asked to adapt to the change.

The things that seem obvious and exciting to management will often be perceived with scepticism and resistance by the employees, who we ask to step out of their comfort zone and change their old work routines.

We need to close the gap between management and employees by communicating what is missing. We need to communicate a clear link between the strategic rationale behind the change and the personal motivators of the employees.

If you try to please everyone, you will end up pleasing no one

The way we communicate in organisations reflects the corporate culture. Sadly, for many corporates, collective behaviour and communication are often driven by conservative thinking.

Most organisations have numerous constituencies they need to please or keep on side: employees, managers, departments and many more. When the organisation broadcasts anything, the amendment and approval process is, in effect, a test; will this communication offend one of our many stakeholders? When one is that cautious, one’s message is honed to be as safe and sterile as possible – and while this results in a message that is unlikely to offend, it is equally unlikely to mobilise or engage. To succeed with a message, you need courage and a firm understanding of the difference between communication that inspires and information that is just stating the obvious in the most conservative thinking. When everybody goes zig, it might be the best idea that you go zag.

Five simple tips and tricks to a successful change communication

We are bombarded with thousands of messages everyday – and often without us even noticing. If you start thinking differently and use change communication, you will be able to cut through the clutter, make your messages hit their target and thus change peoples’ behaviour.

Here are our five tips and tricks:
1. Start from the top

As with any change, you need a buy-in from the top management to succeed with change communication. Remember, courageous communication is a matter of corporate culture. And you can only establish the right promoting culture with the top management on board.

2. Take a stand

While taking a stand is often tied to political communication, you can also use it for internal change communication. When you want your key messages to do their job, it is crucial that you give your audience a clear viewpoint. Many articles on the intranet have the taste of a Reuters news flash. They are neutral reports doing their chronicler duty. Try to give your messages the flavour of an opinion or debate article instead.

3. Choose and pick

We often tend to put everything we know into a piece of communication, especially if it is an important one. We want to say everything there is to say about a certain topic. As much as this is understandable, it tends to overload recipients with information and thus obscures their view on what is really important. In that sense, when we do change communication, it is pretty much like when we do strategy – it is all about making choices. In strategy, organisations need to make a choice of where they want to go and who they want to be (e.g. either cost OR price leader). When we do courageous change communication, this is no different. You must choose your core message and go with it. This can be frightening, because choosing means you have to leave a lot remained unsaid. But what is the alternative? If you do not make a choice, people will not understand anything, because they are overloaded with everything.

4. Talk about your dilemmas

Yes, you heard it right. Don’t be shy and be honest about issues and challenges. It is fair to say that change communication all too often is soaked in self-congratulation, selling bumpy implementation initiatives as smooth successes of transition. While this is not only boring, as the same old corporate song is being told, it also fails to spark emotions with the employees. Reading success stories makes people listen. But stories about how failures have been overcome and the struggling tied to it make people feel.

5. Call things what they are

Organisations always tend to go from good to great no matter how severe the situation and no matter how deep the trouble. This expression is very common, but it often also misses the target. Employees are not stupid und are usually able to smell euphemisms from miles away. Why not just be honest? Call it a bad situation when that is what it is.