What are the right messages to use during a change?
Communicating the change well to the organisation is crucial for any change to be effective. But isn’t communication easy, we do it every day so why do we get it so wrong so often.
Send an email out on Monday; Training on Tuesday, the change is going live on Wednesday. That should work, right? Well, let's have a look at some key activities that make communications successful especially during a change.… Click To Tweet
Will our previous example work? The staff know about the change because they are getting the ‘just in time’ training right? Is this really a ‘No Problem’ situation?.
Communication is a two-way conversation
For starters, there needs to be a channel that allows for the conversation to happen, like team meetings, Yammer or Slack. You also need to allocate the time to have this open conversation with the affected staff, and you need the resources to contribute to the conversation with feedback and answer any queries.
This conversation cannot be a once off event, you need to communicate frequently, consistently and through multiple media. To get the best buy in from your communications you need to direct the messages to the individual and what they need from it. You need to fine-tune the messages to suit the different levels and types of your audience. Depending on the size of the change and how it affects the staff, you will need to target your audiences with different messages that support the change in the ways they will see the benefits. Your organisation may have different personas, such as field staff or off-shore, warehouse, support office or finance and HR. Further, in the blog, I have used Executive, Manager and Staff.
When do you start to communicate?
You should share information with employees as soon as possible. If the rumour mill is in full swing, then you know you are too late. Once the project has defined the scope and deliverables then tell the staff what is happening. Obviously, at an early stage of the project, you won’t be able to tell staff too much, but be upfront with your communications. Tell your staff what you do know now and what you don’t know yet. Tell them when you will update information and how it will be communicated including digital signage, posters and intranet posts. Try to stay away from email as your messages may get lost in the noise. Providing a feedback channel is a good place to start conversations. You may be surprised and find support from staff who have expertise in some area that may help with the project.
Make the messages meaningful.
Simple project status updates are not what the staff are after, those updates don’t give them the ‘why’.
Why are we changing, why now?
A good structure for the initial change communication is to state:
- Why the change is necessary
- The situation if nothing changes
- Proposed solution
- How the proposed solution fits the organisation’s vision or strategy
About the Change
- What the objectives of the change will be
- What the transition will look like
- What’s in scope and out of scope
- What are the timeframes
- Who will be potentially affected
- If this is not addressed then the rumours will fill the voids
- How will they be affected
- What support will be available
As the project progresses the messaging should turn to key areas that the staff will want to know. If there are any changes from the previous messages, include these and the reasons for the change.
The best opinion for messages to executives is to provide what they need to know, what they need to do and how it will affect the organisation. Minimise the communications to an executive summary, keeping it short and concise. Provide them with the scope as they will be concerned with how their organisation may be impacted especially in their area of control.
Managers are also Staff, so they should get the same key messages, but they need to get it before the staff do. The managers need to be able to answer the questions from their staff, and they need to prepare for any questions. Preparing potential question and answer sheets will make the messages consistent and help support the managers through the change. To ensure the managers do not inadvertently filter out information because they may not think its relevant, continue to emphasise the Project in-scope, out of scope messages as well as the effect that it will have on staff.
Being the largest proportion of the organisation with their different needs and wants it is difficult to address everyone’s concerns as people are different. What communications can do is address as many as possible by talking to and listening to the staff. As I said earlier having an open two-way conversation is easy to do with Yammer or Slack. When concerns are raised in these open channels the organisation can see the conversation and there is a good chance that others would have the same issue. A great tactic here is to have the CEO or executive take part in the conversations.
Topics that need to be addressed in any of the messages include:
- The impact of the change on their role (Small or large)
- Training requirements if needed
- Timings (pilot, Go-live, Phase next)
- Process for providing and gathering feedback (Intranet FAQ, suggestion box)
If you follow these simple guidelines your return on investment from your communications will be much greater.
- Start the conversation and start it early
- Use a variety of communication pathways and vehicles.
- Get the Success stories – use real-life quotes
- Make the messaging meaningful
- Keep communicating
Just try to get the right message to the right people at the right time and sent by the right person.