Change management comms like you’ve never done it before.

McKinsey estimates that 70% of change programmes fail to achieve their goals, in large part due to employee resistance. It may be our inherent resistance to change or it may be change fatigue borne out of the frustration of constant flux experienced in organisations that are in an ever-shifting state of alteration. Whatever the reasons, it hardly matters because change, like tax and tele salespeople, can’t be avoided.

We need only look at the Kodaks or ToysRUs to understand the imperative for change. Given its inevitability and the opportunity that change brings with it, we should be rooting for it to succeed and for that to happen, our change communication needs to do more than overcome resistance. It needs to create a group of enthusiastic advocates who are clear on the strategy and able to execute it with a level of clarity and competence. To achieve that, here are the smash hits of change management best practices:

Be a boy scout. Go in prepared with a communication plan. Work with senior leaders to agree on a communication plan. Without a plan, it becomes too easy to let communication slide and when that happens, the rot sets in – rumours circulate, impetus is lost, understanding gets blurry and attention wavers.

Practice radical honesty. Don’t try and soft soap a change management initiative. Tell it like it is. Eventually your employees will find out that your ‘exciting change programme that will revitalise the way you do business’ is in fact just another disruptive restructure in sheep’s clothing. Out with it. Be clear and transparent up front. Similarly, if you’re asked a question, even, or especially, an unpalatable one, don’t duck and dive, answer it as honestly and transparently as possible. People would rather hear an ugly truth than a pretty lie.

Email is not your friend. It makes you look lazy at best and weak at worst. Meet with people face to face – especially if the news is not good, if you need to do some serious convincing, or if the change you’re embarking on is complex and needs clarifying or unpacking. In fact, for any one of a thousand reasons, email is just about the poorest communication choice you can make.

Get out of your office. Yes, it’s nice in there but you need to be accessible to people to answer questions and clarify understanding. Make time to regularly discuss the change management initiative, field questions, take the hits, deal with the issues and handle any objections. Being able to deal with any resistance allows change initiatives to move on; ignoring them creates impasses that are hard to recover from.

SPUGS. Be gone with your BHAGS (big hairy audacious goals) and roll out the red carpet for your small puny underwhelming goals. The problem with BHAGS is they’re almost impossible to achieve and while working on them, you feel like you’re going nowhere. Break your project into lots and lots of small milestones and celebrate achieving each one so that there is a sense of achievement and progress.

Let go Joe. If you treat it like your project, it will be. If you own the communication and treat both the channels and content as something you control, then you’ll be solely responsible for driving the project. By decentralising communications and using channels that give everyone a voice, you’ll create a greater sense of ownership in the group and give the project a much higher chance of success. Create platforms that give people a voice – to speak to leadership, to each other and to the rest of the organisation. Communication structured in this way has many benefits – it’s more authentic, more honest and more transparent and because of this, better at connecting with a broader audience.

Engage often and then some more.  There’s a laughable belief that if you write an email with a reasonable rationale for the change and hit send, it’ll be read by everyone, understood and voila, there will be no resistance. If you believe this, or anything close to this, then you’re tripping. You need to communicate often and regularly – even if you don’t have all the answers. Rather say ‘we don’t have all the details yet but what we do know is…’ and come back to them when you do have more information. Only regular, consistent and honest communication will be effective in overcoming resistance.

Know your audience. A spray and pray communication approach will result in your audience turning off and tuning out and if they do that, you’ll be unable to connect with them and an audience you can’t find, is an audience you can’t convince. Tailor your communication to your different audiences by considering who your different target groups are – what do you want each different group to think, feel and do, what language will connect with them and how will you reach them? Then ask what does it mean for each audience, what’s in it and most importantly, what do you want them to do (call to action)?

One man’s village green is another man’s poison. Different audiences need to hear different messages and want to hear them via different channels. You need to segment your audience to ensure a right audience, right message, right channel mix. Remember when developing your channel strategy that face-to-face, followed by video, are the preferred channels so include:

  • Workshops
  • One-on-one meetings
  • Focus groups
  • Team meetings
  • Audio visuals
  • Video conferences
  • Hack-a-thons or problem-solving groups

It’s a bloody boring cliché but if change is truly the only constant, we need to ensure we’re effectively equipped to communicate our way through it successfully, or find ourselves on the midden of brand relics alongside those that have eschewed change for the comfort of the familiar.

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