Why is it after almost every project is complete, the most common suggestion for future initiatives is, “we need to communicate better?” Organizations spend a lot of time and money putting together intricate communication plans, but at the end of the day they hear the same “we aren’t very good at communicating” feedback time and time again. What is it that makes communicating during change so difficult?
One of the most common mistakes we see in our change management consulting work is when an organization’s communication efforts are really just attempts to get people to like the change or better yet convince people the change will be easy and everything about it is going to be “just wonderful.” When we see organizations making this same mistake over and over, it reminds us of Paul Newman’s famous line in the movie Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
Do This… Not That
Below, we’ve put together a list of the 7 best practices for communication during change based on the principles of the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM),
- Communication Must be Regular and Frequent
At the beginning of any initiative it is imperative to set the expectation that there will be regular communication that is credible and comprehensive. Often there is a tendency for people to wait to send any type of communication until all of the information is known and available. This is a mistake! It’s much more important to cycle your communication and repeat the same message often than to wait until all the information is complete and perfect. What if you don’t know something? Tell them! You can always say, “We don’t have all the information yet, but this is what we do know.”
- Do Not Over-Rely on Email
We cannot stress this point enough. Generally speaking, the average business person gets more than 50 emails a day. So, why then, does anyone think an email is going to have enough of an impact to change someone’s behavior? We are pretty sure that no one will change what they are currently doing solely because an email has gone out saying they should.
- Use a Variety of Communication Means
Even in today’s technologically-driven world, face-to-face discussion remains the most powerful method for communication. To that end, it is imperative to find as many ways as possible to meet either in small groups or in one-on-one sessions with the Targets of the change. Some examples of ways to communicate face-to-face include:
- Small Group Sessions
- One-on-One Meetings
- Focus Groups
- Team Meetings
- Hot Lines
- Video Conferences
- Don’t Use a Top Down, One Size Fits All Communication
One of the biggest problems in communication is actually one of the easiest to solve. Communication is often “top down”, meaning it is written from the point of view of the senior manager writing the communication rather than the point of view of the recipients. The over-riding rationale is that once everyone reads the message, they will understand why the change is happening, they will be on-board and resistance will be non-existent. We have four words for this… Not. Going. To. Happen.
- Instead, Use “Target Specific” Communication
Each Target group needs to be considered differently. What is, and what is not changing for that group? What kind of language and examples will resonate for that group? What's the "Frame of Reference" for those Targets? All communication must address the two most important questions from a Target’s point of view: “What’s in it for me?” and “What does it mean to me?” And needless to say, different Target groups will have different answers to those questions!
- Communication Must Include a Feedback Loop
Every communication that goes out must have a way for information and feedback to come back in. In other words, communications must be "cyclical" and "iterative." Feedback loops are crucial in order to allow Targets to express their thoughts and feelings. And, it’s a perfect way for Change Agents to gather information about any potential sources of resistance to the change.
- Monitor and Evaluate Your Communications for Effectiveness
Evaluate your communications to ensure they are achieving your goals. Test the effectiveness of your communications for both content and process.
Building a communication plan during any change initiative is not only important, it is imperative. But, remember… a communication plan is not the same thing as a change management plan. Yes, communication is an important area to plan for, but it needs to be linked with the other elements of the AIM Change Management approach including Securing Sponsorship, Building Readiness, Designing Reinforcements and Creating a Cultural Fit.
So, now that you’ve read our communication best practices we’d like to hear how you are communicating during your change. Is it effective? Or are you destined to hear the dreaded, “we need to communicate better” feedback too?