Change Management Part 2: Communicating Change at Your Organization
Last updated on July 11, 2022 at 03:47 pm
Host: On this episode of ICTV, Change Management Consultant Kara Sundar is back to share her best practices around communicating change at your organization.
How do you set yourself up for success when communicating change?
The number one predictor of success is your sponsor engagement. They need to be actively and visibly engaged. So, working closely with them to understand what did they want to see as a result of this change? Why are they excited? What makes them nervous? What’s going to have to change that might be different than something just technical, but more of a mindset shift? Getting your arms around that early and working with them very closely to deliver messaging is going to set you up for success. Next, is equipping the team with some common language. These are your built-in change champions—giving them all an elevator pitch that they can use. And the third thing is planning for resistance. It’s going to happen, and you can set yourself apart as a communications consultant by preparing for it, and knowing what to do when you see it.
What’s the key thing communicators need to keep in mind when communicating change?
When you begin communicating a project, make sure you’re ready to answer some foundational questions. Who’s going to be impacted? What are they going to expect to see? How are they going to get information? The answers might be ‘we don’t know yet.’ And that’s scary for some leaders. So setting the expectation that you will have transparent communication that may not be fully baked is something that you can do to build in change acceptance into your organization, or nimbleness, because as our projects go towards a more agile methodology, our audience needs to as well.
And the question you should really be able to answer more than any other is what’s in it for me? And the answer might be different depending on who you’re talking to. So make sure you’re spending time with your stakeholders, that you have people out there you can trust, and banter around ideas with about how is this message going to land?
There are two ways to communicate through change. What’s the difference between “tell” versus “talk” communications?
As communications consultants, you’ve probably seen a lot of the tell. It’s where it’s more of a top-down approach. The central organization or sponsor is delivering a message. It’s a positive story, and you just kind of communicate on it and reiterate it through some cascading messages. This is okay if all you’re trying to build up is compliance. People need to know it’s going on. This might be appropriate if, say, you’re using a new brand and people need to change their email signature. It’s a one time thing, it’s not a true behavior change.
But if what you really want to build is capability, a new system, a new process, a new way of working, you have to go about things differently. First of all, you need to deliver peer-to-peer interaction space. You may see that some negativity comes up there. Don’t be surprised or scared, because guess what? People are going to be talking negatively whether you can listen in or not. So, if you have the opportunity to listen in, you may actually find they’re asking questions that your project team has not considered yet. That’s a huge value that you can add as a communications specialist. Be willing to address negative emotions openly. If the positive message isn’t landing with people, make sure you have other ways to address their concerns.
It’s really critical here that you work with the managers to both listen into that concern, and also equip them with language to be able to coach that person through the process. And there are opportunities to work with people who might really be placing rocks in the path of the project, intentionally trying to keep the change from happening, and if you’re not prepared for those, they can really cause a lot of delay, and time, and budget. So making sure that you are ready to talk to the right people to escalate when those things happen, and not just send out another communication. That’s really an important way that you can add value to the team.
And if you’re one of the lucky communications consultants that have been brought on early enough in a project, you can actually add value by doing some brainstorming with the team. Hey, we’re delivering this new finance system. What departments might experience the most change and less resistance? What would we expect to go wrong if something did go wrong? And being able to proactively plan ahead, rather than just reactively when things are already challenged.
And the final step here is to build two-way communication. So, this is the feedback loop. I have seen projects go south when they go live and they haven’t listened to their key stakeholder concerns that are legitimate, and sometimes required by, let’s say, a government entity. We have to be able to listen to the people who are going to be using the system and be able to differentiate between complaining, insecurity, and actual legitimate concerns. So by building in that feedback loop, you really are going to be able to prepare the project team and the audience at the same time.