7 Principles For Communicating Change
Communication continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing any changing organization. Attempts to cascade change information down the organization structure or broadcast it out to everyone from a central source are profoundly inadequate for the task of engaging everyone during the uncertain environment that always accompanies major change.
Here are seven basic principles every changing organization should follow when approaching the daunting task of communicating change information:
1. Clear Ownership is Critical: The communication department is not responsible for communicating change. They have a support role, not an ownership role. Three groups must take ownership for change information:
- Senior leaders – have the required power and authority.
- Project teams – have the up-to-date change details.
- First level supervisors –are the most trusted source of information for employees.
Once these three groups take responsibility for communicating change effectively, successful change is dramatically improved.
2. Clarify the Message: There are three dimensions to any change message:
- Strategy determines why change is necessary, the consequences for failure, the desired outcomes and the key priorities.
- Change describes the specific behaviors that are required for successful change, who is involved, timelines etc.
- Transition outlines the information that will help everyone adapt to the changing situation.
3. Engage all Leaders First: It is essential all leaders and managers, from executives to first level supervisors are fully engaged and informed about what is required of them for the changes to be successful. This will require all leaders, either in functional or geographic groups to get together on a regular basis to discuss the changes, sort through all their issues, questions and concerns and clarify what is expected of them to engage the entire organization.
4. Simplify the Message: One-page briefing notes are the best communication tool to use in a changing environment. Written in simple language using a point form outline containing current key messages, these effective communication tools serve as the actual resource to ensure everyone is “on the same page”. Avoid long memos, mass emails, change newsletters or any of the other ineffective communication tools.
5. Face to Face is Essential: Start by getting the leaders together to talk things through. Then ensure the supervisors get together with their employees to discuss the changes and deal with everyone’s questions, issues, and concerns. It is only by looking people in the eye and clearly explaining the why, what, when, who, and how that people will invest the necessary time and energy required to ensure the change is successful.
6. Assess Communication Effectiveness Regularly: It is helpful to determine where people are along the continuum of Awareness, Understanding, Commitment and Action in relation to where they need to be based on the requirements of the change. Project teams and first level supervisors must do these simple assessments on a regular basis.
7. Remember the Basics: Actions speak louder than words, listening is twice as important and twice as difficult as talking or writing, and tell people the truth. People can always handle the truth. What they can’t handle is uncertainty, confusion and a lack of information.
When a changing organization follows these seven basic principles, there is a noticeable increase in engagement and successful implementation of the changes. When they don’t and continue to rely on the typical technology supported communication practices so common in changing organizations today, there continues to be a significant lack of enthusiasm and high failure rate for change implementation.
If you’re interested in learning more techniques to effectively communicate change, check out the newest edition of our e-resource Communicating Organizational Change.
Copyright 2016 Chris Edgelow, Sundance Consulting Inc.