The Insiders’ Guide to Employee Communications

By Poppulo

Table of Contents

Chapter 7 – Change Management

Successful change management and why change projects fail

We live in an age of constant change, and constant demand for change in business.

Yet 70% of all change projects fail & bad communication is always one of the main reasons for this.

We look at what poor communications look like, and how to make them effective for a successful outcome.

1. Six reasons why change projects fail

a) Communication: The key to fixing this is clear consistent messaging. Also remember that communication isn’t a one way process, you also have to listen to people - from throughout the organization – to make change communications effective and successful.

b) Top Down approach: Too often leaders have been thinking about and planning for change programs for a long time without input from employees and internal stakeholders. By the time they are ready to communicate they’ve already been on the path for quite a while, but fail to realize their people will only be at the start point. And they will consequently require very clear and coherent communications about why the change is happening, why it’s necessary, who’s going to be impacted and when, and what are the required results.

c) Lack of space and support: Change is a very personal thing. Give people time to absorb what’s being communicated and to know what’s in it for them.

d) Unclear objectives: Frequently there isn’t clarity about what’s being proposed and why. What are you doing, why are you doing it and why is it important that you do it? Once there’s clarity around these points it’s much easier to communicate effectively.

e) Lack of performance measures: There needs to be clarity about what change program success looks like and this has to be measured and proved, to show that you are accomplishing what you said was needed to be accomplished.

f) Understanding emotions: Change is emotional, and communication professionals have the opportunity and ability to bring these emotions into the conversation, because it acknowledges where people are at, at that point in time, and helps them move through the change process.

2. The change path

It’s important to realize that everybody will at some stage go through the change program, path or process, whether they are adaptable or resistant to change. The difference being that they will go through it at a different pace depending on their disposition to change.

Because everybody is not going through the path at the same time, communicators have an important role to play to ensure they have targeted communications that apply to specific individuals and stakeholders because different people might be impacted in different ways at different times.

Too often we’re seeing change processes that paint a one-size-fits-all application to everyone and expect people to go along with it, trying to pull people along rather than working through it with them being included and contributing.

3. The role of communication

  • To bring the point of view of the stakeholder to the table.
  • Create and help leaders communicate clear, consistent messages.
  • Help the audience be aware, understand, respond and believe in the program.
  • Listen, ask questions, get the stakeholders involved. The more they feel they’re part of the change the greater the likelihood of it being successful.
  • Create a plan that provides the right message to the right stakeholder at the right time. Don’t have a ‘launch and leave’ approach to the communication plan. It’s important to take people through the process and the various milestones, with solid communication programs along the way.

4. Communicate in stages

Don’t communicate everything at once. People can only take in so much information at any one time.

Start with awareness: what’s happening to who, when and why? The messaging should revolve around what people need to know right now, at the beginning of a change program.

Further communications are required for people to gain a greater understanding of why change needs to happen, so that they can progress to accept and believe in it.

5. Why a smooth change transition is important

  • Strategies need to work.
  • Investments need to be justified.
  • There needs to be limited impact on business results – the lights have to be kept on while change is happening.
  • You need people to stay put and not leave the organization, which could be unsettling and send out negative and potentially damaging signals.
  • Limit potential legal difficulties.

6. Communication is integral, because without it...

  • People wonder what’s happening.
  • People make up their own truth.
  • They get scared or unsettled and leave... or
  • They get scared or unsettled, but stay and stop performing.

Having a good communications infrastructure in place during the good times will help a company during a change program or a crisis.

— Priya Bates, President, Inner Strength Communications

7. What’s important in change communication?

The team: Who needs to be at the decision making table? Executive, HR, IT, Legal, Training, etc. Forget about “ownership” of the communications, concentrate instead on a partnership approach. Ask the question, who needs to be at the table in order for this process to be successful? Communicators should point out who they believe are missing from the table, for example key influencers who do not happen to be part of the organization’s leadership.

The tools: Face-to-face, town halls, team meetings, intranets, emails, video, social, line managers. Use the right tools at the right time and the right place. Don’t use them all at the same time or you will lose your audience with the noise. They will quickly learn to ignore you.

The tone: This is really important. Key messages need to reflect the tone you want to set for the change, and the tone will differ depending on the circumstances. For example, if you are communicating a business acquisition internally and you are the acquiring company, you will need to be aware that the feelings and concerns of people in the company being acquired will be very different, and need to be addressed and treated accordingly.

8. What do you need to know?

The big picture: Why is this change happening? What does success look like when change is complete?

Stakeholder analysis: Who is impacted? What are their attitudes, opinions, beliefs?

Project milestones: What’s happening, to whom and when? What do they need to be aware of, understand, do and believe?

Who are the influencers? Leaders, managers, champions... and those who are not on the leadership team. Who can derail your efforts? Bring those who are negative into the conversation early and very often they can be an ally or ambassador once they are given information and have their questions answered.

9. Every change plan is different, stop looking for a formula

There’s an approach to change programs and questions you can ask that can tend to be the same, but once you’ve got those answers how you approach the change is different based on culture, based on specific issues, and based on what competitors are doing.

So stop looking for a formula and start really listening to the content and the answers you’re getting to the questions you’ve asked, in order to deliver the right communications.

10. Start small and prove value

This is especially applicable for communicators who are having trouble getting to the decision-making table. So start with a small change program, with an executive who you feel is an early adopter who is open to your support. Ask them how you can help.

Then measure success – this is crucial. “Most of the time, internal communicators fail to measure,” says Priya Bates. “So they don’t understand and they fail to plan. It tends to be the standard that we’re seeing across the board. We miss measurement,” she said.

We need to measure success. Success is not output, it’s not the number of newsletters you send out or the number of stories you released. Success is actually the business achieving its goals, and that’s something we need to be very, very aware of.

— Priya Bates, President, Inner Strength Communications

This section is based on a Poppulo webinar with Priya Bates, President, Inner Strength Communications Inc.: Time for change – A Communicators role in change programs.

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