Ready, set, go: change communication planning in an afternoon
When change communication needs to start quickly, your planning process has to be efficient. Here’s how.
A recent strategy session with a client turned up a provocative question: “How do I short circuit the change communication process?”
Our client had just learned about a significant organizational change and communication needed to start yesterday. But without an in-house change management team, she knew some planning was required.
While the gold standard for change communication may be a thoughtful planning process that considers the input of stakeholders and defines communication roles, sometimes you need to put on your facilitator hat and collect details—quickly.
- Figure out the details
Gather your experts—colleagues who play a role in shaping the change—in a room and don’t open the door until the team has completed two steps:
a) Segment employees and map impact
Collaborate with your colleagues to divide employees into groups based on role, location or function/department. For example, you may have people managers and HR representatives. Try this simple segmentation exercise.
Then map these groups based on the impact of the change: from little/no impact to deep involvement. The greater the impact, the harder communication will need to work to make the change stick. That means an email won’t be sufficient, you’ll need tactics that encourage interaction, such as Q&A with a senior leader or in-person workshops.
b) Brainstorm questions
Identifying questions is an efficient way to uncover the details of a change. Work with your colleagues to imagine the toughest questions employees will ask and collaborate on responses. You’ll find this exercise is also a helpful way to identify gaps: details the experts haven’t considered or have yet to figure out.
If you’re new to brainstorming questions, try these techniques. When you’re pressed for time, break into teams and identify a topic (an aspect of the change) for each team to explore.
- Create the plan
Now that you have details, you’re ready to create the communication plan.
The best change communication plans help the change team think proactively, define success and prioritize the organization’s efforts. Be sure your plan covers all the bases:
- Answer the question: Where are we now? Create a situation analysis to set the context and get everyone on the same page.
- Define key audiences. Be as specific as possible to describe important groups. The segmentation exercise you did above will shape this section.
- Set communication objectives. The best objectives are specific, actionable and measurable. They describe a desired outcome—and a commitment. And they always support the change project objectives. The segmentation exercise will also be useful for this section—helping you define objectives by group. Here are sample communication objectives for a system implementation: senior leaders will reinforce the new system, HR professionals will know how to run reports for their groups, and people managers and employees will know how to use the new system.
- Create key messages. Developing key messages helps you curate critical information and clearly explain the situation. It will help those who have communication responsibilities deliver consistent messages and focus on the right topics. And it will help employees navigate the details—from project teams to focus areas—that are challenging to remember and prioritize.
- Develop a mix of communication strategies. This is the how of your plan, which outlines your approach to reach your objectives. For example, “Leaders and managers will play a role in answering employees’ questions.”
- Describe tactics in detail. Especially when proposing something new, make sure you provide enough color and texture, so stakeholders can understand what you mean. See the tips below.
- Include a timeline. Map how and when your communication program works to create a comprehensive picture.
Once your plan is complete, develop a one-page summary to help stakeholders quickly grasp the plan and understand your vision.
Tips for selecting tactics
When you’re selecting communication tactics, consider the purpose of each deliverable. Some will build awareness (such as posters and email) and others will operate as knowledge-building tools (such as workshops and Q&A sessions).
Leverage existing channels. You likely have a set of communication tools that you use regularly, such as the intranet, an email from the CEO or a newsletter. Put those channels to work in your change communication plan.
For example, a special section on the intranet could be a helpful place for employees to get the latest information on the change.
Consider new communication tools. From one-page overviews to meetings and workshops, new or one-off tactics will be an important part of your plan. They will help you build knowledge within specific groups and help key stakeholders play their communication roles.
Mix it up. Don’t fall into the trap of sending an email and considering communication complete. When it comes to change communication, the most critical tools encourage dialogue and participation.
Tips for creating content
Remember the questions you brainstormed during the session with your change experts? The answers will form the foundation of your content.
Provide the big picture. When a change is launched, employees want to know what is happening now and what will happen:
- How will we know when the change is done? How is this different from what we’re doing now? (vision)
- How did we decide to make this change? Why is it important? (context)
- How will we make this change? (plan)
Be specific about what employees need to do. It’s often the first question employees ask: What do I need to do differently? Help employees understand what the change means for them and consider if expectations are different for business units or levels.