Change Management: Nothing Will Change Without Communication

Change Management: Nothing Will Change Without Communication
Brian Clark

Brian Clark, WorkPlan Director, shares his thoughts on what are essential elements of a change communications plan and the communication practices that will support both the successful execution of a change project and ensure the project succeeds on completion.

How many times do we hear about change projects failing or not achieving their expectations? There are many variables that will negatively impact a change project, in this article I will be focusing on the one I encounter most frequently with clients asking for help either mid-stream or after a change project. It does not usually take too long after a change project to discover it has failed.

There are five essential elements that, for me, form the framework for successful communications in a change project. This framework is vital and if not adopted by the project team and leadership in an organisation, the communication strategy will not be effective.

The five essential elements that form the framework for successful communications:

  1. Trust is the foundation of both culture and effective change communication. If there is a lack of trust already extant in an organisation, this must be considered when developing the communications strategy. There must be a total focus on accuracy, transparency and authenticity.
  2. Communication needs to have a rhythm that is consistent. Many failed change projects adopt an ad-hoc approach to communication. A regular schedule of communication must be in the change management plan. This includes the channels of communication and the person responsible for the content.
  3. The key stakeholders involved in the change project must ensure that they model behaviour and communicate in alignment with the change project. In one instance, I had a client who had a member of the project team being very critical of the project in informal discussions with colleagues. This harmed the credibility of both the project and the project team.
  4. Lack of communication or no communication at all is still communication. If there is a lack of communication, people will create information on their own and misinformation could do damage to the change project that is very difficult to repair.
  5. Having fun is a great way to engage people. Change projects can create an aura of fun – try using visual communications like posters, logos, pictures, videos and other means. I have seen one client create humorous short videos depicting the before and after of an LMS implementation. Contests are another great way to engage people, for example creating a name for a new software platform or a ‘best idea’ competition.

So now we have the framework, I suggest each of the five elements is included in the change management plan with specific ways each one will be included and executed effectively. The project team should include measures and accountabilities, as applicable for either the entire framework or assign them to individuals.

Within the framework, there are change communication practices that are the essential tactical elements supporting it. I have seven practices that are essential to a successful change communications plan.

Seven practices that are essential to a successful change communications plan

  1. The communications must include a focus on the end in mind. What is the change going to look like, how is it going to positively impact the people and the organisation. Each person should have a clear line of sight for both the end in mind and how this supports the strategy of the organisation. This ensures those impacted by the change understand how their work contributes to the change program’s ultimate objective.
  2. If you fail in communicating the ‘why,’ your change project is certainly doomed to fail. Every person on the change team and all the senior leadership of the organisation should be able to clearly articulate the ‘why’ with as little individual variation as possible.
  3. Never waver from transparency in your communications. If something is not going to plan, do not fear communicating that. It is much better to be transparent than have unmet expectations that will damage the credibility and support of the change project. If there are impacts from the change project that will negatively impact people, this needs to be communicated early with honesty and realism.
  4. As much as you can, use face-to-face communications. Meetings using online platforms are effective as well but ensure the participants have their webcams on. When people communicate in person, they have a greater likelihood of creating a shared meaning and comraderies associated with the change project.
  5. Never over-complicate your messaging. Simplify everything and avoid jargon, excessive detail, and information that is not relevant outside the project team. By simplifying your communication messaging, you will encourage higher levels of retention and accuracy when people repeat the messaging in conversations with colleagues.
  6. There are people in every organisation that are the most connected and often the most influential within the culture. You should consider these people in your change communication plan as communication channels. People who have a strong network in the organisation will help your efforts in improving engagement, dealing with negativity and prevent people from feeling detached from ‘what is going on’.
  7. If feasible in your organisation, consider using a tool to measure people’s understanding of the change project. You will also gain insight into attitudinal trends if the questions are crafted well. I suggest you only use very short online surveys taking no more than one to three minutes to complete. The number of short surveys will be dependent on the length and complexity of your change project.

If you are interested in learning more about change management and ideas about how to implement a change communications plan in your business, book in for a 30-minute obligation free chat today!

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