5 Crucial Inputs Communicators Can Deliver in Change Programs
Communication professionals have an incredible opportunity to influence a company’s change projects by crafting clear, consistent messages.
But there’s so much more they can do to help a change campaign succeed, as Priya Bates, president of Inner Strength Communication, highlighted in a Poppulo webinar: Time for Change: A communicator’s role in change programs.
She outlined five key inputs communicators can play:
- Bring the stakeholder’s point of view to the table—and help employees catch up
A communicator’s job is to explain leadership’s point of view, objectives, and plan to employees. Part of this step is recognizing that by the time leaders are ready to communicate their vision, they’ve already worked through their way through the change path. In fact, sometimes they’ve spent 2 or 3 years analyzing potential options, getting all their questions answered, and deciding on a new path.
It’s easy to forget that your employees haven’t done that. They’re starting from the beginning and need time to catch up. Communicators have a responsibility to bring the stakeholder’s plan to employees—and to do so in a way that helps them move along the change path day by day, moving from shock and denial to adoption and commitment.
- Help employees work through the change path with awareness, understanding, response, and belief
There’s a four-step process for helping employees move along the change path. Each step calls for its own type of communication. Here’s how Priya explains this:
- Awareness involves presenting the facts that people need to know—what’s happening, to whom, and when?
- Understanding means helping people understand why this change is happening.
- Response is helping employees understand what they need to do now, next, and in the future.
- Belief means helping employees start believing in the changes that are being made from the inside out.
- Create targeted communications plans
Priya feels strongly about the importance of creating a plan that provides each of these four messages to the right stakeholder at the right time.
Rather than taking a “launch and leave” change approach—in which communicators create all the messaging for launch day, distribute it, and then never touch it again—communicators should take people through the process and the various milestones with solid communication programs that lead them along the way.
- Create and help leaders communicate clear, consistent messages
As a professional communicator, this is likely your strong suit. You know how to create compelling messages tailored to different audiences. But a lack of clarity around the company’s objectives can make your job more difficult.
If leadership hasn’t communicated why these changes are happening, push them to clarify what they’re doing and why they’re doing it—and to explain clearly why it matters.
- Listen, ask questions, and get internal stakeholders involved
This is a big opportunity for professional communicators because the more that people feel that they are part of the change—and part of the solution—the more likely it is that the change project will be successful. Of course, it’s not always possible to include internal stakeholders at every step, but whenever possible, communicators should advocate for this type of engagement. You can also coach them on how to become better communicators themselves. Often, this is a skill that line managers and other functional staff lack.
Putting it all together
There are times during the change path that different types of information are available. We don’t have to do everything at once—people can take in only bite-sized pieces of information, anyway.
Awareness. So, start with awareness to move people through the shock and denial steps of the change path. Employees need to know what’s happening, to whom, and when, so the messaging at this step will answer the question, “What do employees need to know right now, at the beginning of the change process?”
Understanding. As you provide this information to people, you help them gain a greater understanding of why the changes are happening. Rather than saying, “This is what’s happening; just deal with it,” be sure to explain what’s happening, why it’s happening, and what the decision-making was around the changes. This perspective can help people through their anger and resistance and on to acceptance, once they understand they’re part of the conversation.
Response. The next phase is response, or helping employees understand what to do. Quite a bit of this happens through communication. In this step, you’ll be working in partnership with training, technology, and other groups to help them articulate what employees need to do to move the organization forward. One way to communicate that effectively is by turning the to-do steps into stories that help people understand what they need to do and why. As Priya says, change is emotional, and such stories can educate people more effectively than can dry tech specs documents.
Belief. Finally, belief is internal, so the question is, how do we bring people to a place where they actually believe the organization is moving in the right direction? In this step, you work on creating the programs and messaging to get employees to believe. Storytelling and reinforcement can help employees really believe in the change project and see that it’s the right thing for the organization at the right time.
If you can achieve this, you’ve done your job as a communicator.