Eight secrets of successful change communications
2020 has been a year of major change. A nation of 67 million people changed their work pattern to working from home overnight.
Although this year has been exceptional, change is not new. Most organisations undergo major change about once every three years. Every change is different and can be grouped into three main categories.
Increased risks include
- Cyber security threats
- Global headwinds and tailwinds
- Political, social, technological, legal and environmental
- Global response to death of George Floyd
- Global warming
- Remote working
Opportunities and growth
- New strategy/product
- Culture transform or strengthen
- Mergers and acquisitions
What is change communications?
Change communications is defined as the component of a change programme that deals specifically with communicating a compelling vision for change. Change communications is not just one-way broadcast style communications, but involves receiving input and feedback from audiences that confirms the change vision and messages have been understood.
We asked 110 change communications professionals to share their thoughts on what works, what doesn’t, and ultimately what the secrets are to success. Here’s what they told us.
Over half of all change is down to technological disruption of one sort or another.
Uncertainty surrounds us
There is generally more uncertainty, which leads to more change which then leads to more uncertainty.
Change is exhausting
There’s so much change, more than ever and competing for bandwidth against the business-as-usual internal communications.
Leaders are the answer and the problem
Leaders are crucial to driving change and are cited as the second biggest barrier to successful change (after culture); and yet can make change stick.
Launch doesn’t last
Everyone seems to understand the message at the start of the change and when things take time and there’s a danger that leaders lose interest and momentum slows.
Change is slow
Real, meaningful, behavioural change takes time. Do we really appreciate the stages involved such as resistance, exploration, commitment and what each stage involves?
Change agents are pessimists
The more involved you are in change communications, the more pessimistic you are likely to be about the outcomes. This could be either pragmatism or change fatigue.
Change isn’t for everyone
We don’t need to focus on everyone to make change happen. Only 12% of our participants reckoned that success is changing behaviours in over 80% of the workforce.
So how can we make change work in a world of change weary audiences and exhausted and overworked change communications managers?
Know your audience
- Know the context of the change with thorough research.
- Put yourself in your audiences shoes and understand their needs through detailed segmentation and persona development
- Tailor solutions for each audience based on the data you have gathered rather than guesswork.
Listen and adapt
- Find ways to listen as you go through the change journey. Seeking feedback from your audiences and adjusting your plans and materials based in what you hear will ensure you get them right.
- Accept there will be resistance so plan for it, then react and adapt quickly.
Use local teams, make it relevant
- Middle managers are the gatekeepers of communications so focus most of your energy on them. Give them the right tools and support such as key messages, change communications toolkits or coaching sessions.
- Find other change agents or create a change champions network. Make sure you there is constant dialogue and don’t forget its ok to tell them if you don’t know the answers to their questions.
- Co-create your change plans and interventions with those who are impacted to give them a sense of ownership of the change.
- Change communications managers should be involved in planning change programmes from the start, not just asked to tidy up messages at the end.
- Take time to plan for various scenarios because change, like people, can be unpredictable.
- Resistance planning should be part of your overall change communications plan. Know early on where your resistance is likely to come from and how you are going to deal with it.
Get your leaders involved
- Be an adviser to senior leaders
- Create a senior coalition
- Don’t let leaders hide
- Get your CEO/MD on side, throughout
- Simple, clear messages that are free of business jargon will work best.
- Have as much accurate information available as possible but if you don’t have all the information, say so.
- Make your messages personal and real.
Communicate, sleep and repeat
- Don’t assume people aren’t interested and make sure you communicate with people who don’t need to know.
- Keep a steady drumbeat of communications using of a variety of channels that allows people to find the information they need in a way that suits them best.
Remember, we’re all human and some people travel along the change journey at different rates. By showing the benefit of the change rather than just the change itself can make all the difference.
106 Communications is an award-winning communications consultancy on a mission to making work better. We create communications to engage and inspire through our three expert-led practises in Internal Communications, Change Communications and Branding & Marketing.
For change communications consultancy please contact Henry Davies on Henry@106comms.com