Change communication is an area that many of us have to grapple with regularly. Most change programmes are challenging. Just think about how difficult it is to change something in your own private life, much less working with a whole organisation. We’ve have both worked in this area for several years and for us it always comes down to the level and approach of communication from start to finish and through the process. Here are our thoughts on some specific questions around change and communications.
Why is there so much change within an organisation?
Not only is it about the times we’re in at the moment, but it’s also about progression and developing a way to be better than competitors. Change is a given for most companies and it appears in so many different ways. From culture to mergers and acquisitions to implementing a new ERP system or Office 365. It can be small or big – be contained within a singular division or address the whole organisation. No matter what and why it came about, it is here to stay and improvements are needed on how we approach it. This in order to create less disruption to people, productivity is maintained and change is a success.
What do we need to know about how is it commonly approached?
The intention for change is usually positive, no organisation wants to shed large numbers of its people or disrupt services by introducing a new system for the sake of it. Most of the time it’s about continuous improvement and being better. People hate to use the word ‘efficiency’ in change as it points to staff cuts, but basically it is about being more efficient, even though the unfortunate fall out can be a reduction in staff numbers. We’ve experienced this many times and nothing makes it feel better. What makes it worse is not understanding why it’s happening and what it will achieve. We used to wonder if other solutions were ever explored or why there was an absence of openness and an increase in rumour. When we started to support change more it became obvious. The communication was always included at the point of making announcements, broadcasting changes or perhaps to help HR with the larger events that would insensitively tell people that their job no longer existed. But there is a better way and it’s all about including strategic communication from the very beginning. And here we are talking about when the ideas are formed to introduce the change or new system in the first place. Inviting communications at that point will make a difference to the whole process.
Why is communication the answer to change?
People are at the centre of any organisation. And its people who will be the most impacted when change takes place. This means it makes sense to explore how they will be impacted and what needs to be said at every stage. To be honest everyone will say that communication is important in change, but it is how committed people really are to this that matters. For people to be engaged it might take more than an announcement close to the end of the process. It might mean more than creating a brochure or an intranet page to lay out the change once, without any planned follow up. Culture doesn’t change by promoting a strap line – that’s just part of it. Changing culture for example, is about the whole experience and that’s where the work of communications is needed most.
Taking the time to work through the difficult messages from the outset can create a programme of communications that works with the uncertainty that can appear in the early stages from a management perspective, while helping people to understand what’s happening at that specific stage. By addressing the fear that goes with doing that we can prevent any rumours or false messaging. But we believe it is about working with communications professionals to identify the right level, tone and content throughout the change. Getting the early stages right sets the tone for the rest of the programme with the goal of keeping people engaged and informed.
How can professional communicators help make change a success?
There is a need to be fully engaged with leaders and management who are working in change as well as direct consultants. So, building relationships and having regular conversations with key people helps to build a consistent rapport so that the right support can be offered.
Ensuring the right channels are used to communicate to reach the various groups of people. This will mean a piece of work to review your key audience and stakeholders to get it right. Although this can take time, it is an important step if supporting change.
Being strategic and trusted is also important. Learning what’s important to leadership and how people work and respond will help to interact with those making the decisions around change.
First published on LinkedIn: Trudy Lewis and Michael Nord will be presenting at the IABC World Conference 2022 on this subject, we look forward to seeing you there.