In my career as a consultant I’ve observed the same scenario many times: the management know that they need to change the organisation and they start developing a vision for this. When they actually launch the change, it’s nothing new for them – they have
been planning this for a long time. They send out messages outlining the vision they have for the business and explain where they want to be in six months, two years, five years… They use various channels and repeat the same messages over and over.
They think that they are very good at communication. After a while they realize that for some reason this is not working. They wonder why people don’t get it… Haven’t they read or heard the communications? After all, it’s all over on the intranet.
The reason why it’s not working is that when there is a change going on in an organisation, it’s always much more significant from the employees’ point of view. People have a huge amount of questions and they need them to be
addressed. The first thing that everyone asks is “What does this mean to me? How will it affect my role, my day-to-day work, my team?”
Many times the management leave the communication part of the programme to the Communication Department. They haven’t been including them at all in the planning sessions but they suddenly ask them to release the messages that they have designed across the organisation. They only involve them once everything has been planned and decided and tend to see the internal communication as a mere function, not as something that should be part of the strategic thinking. Of course they are willing to communicate because that’s what all good leaders do, but very often they see it as a pure transmission of messages –which is the dominating vision in the field of communications. They don’t consider how employees are interpreting this information from their own point of view or how they will deal with negative people. They should ask themselves whether employees feel they can trust their line managers or whether the managers do as they’re told.
Change communication is not about spreading a message across an organisation. It is about developing a strategic plan that will create a common understanding and interpretation of the case for change and help all employees understand how it will be implemented in the organisation. That’s how you make them feel comfortable about the change.
There are two keywords to keep in mind when planning change communication: openness and credibility.
Openness means that the management should be honest about where they are at with the change. Change programmes always set up goals for the next five years or so but the truth is, not even the top management can possibly tell what exact steps will need to be taken, what deliverables will look like or what obstacles may arise along the way. Whenever specific questions about the programme come up from across the organisation, it’s OK to say “We don’t have the answer yet, but here is how we will work to address this risk or develop this product.”
Describing the process as openly as possible is very important because it increases the credibility of the management and creates a good climate within the organisation. People feel that they are being told the truth and
that they can trust their management. It’s actually an important part of engaging with the employees. It makes people feel more motivated because you tell them that not everything is set in stone and that they have a chance to influence the process. And then the change can be a success.