Can you communicate too much during change?
In a word, no.
As a change manager, I often get asked what people should communicate with their stakeholders. I suggest they repeat key messages again and again. Research shows that during change, people need to hear a message 5 to 7 times before they really get it. It’s also better if messages are communicated in a variety of ways. If you have communicated the purpose of your project via email and at a staff meeting, you may feel that the job is done and everyone is up to date. However, many people will not have received and understood what you want them to after hearing the message only twice.
Prosci® undertake comprehensive best practices benchmarking in change management every two years and have done so since 1998. They have consistently found that the single greatest contributor to success in change is active and visible sponsorship. Other key contributors include:
- Frequent and open communication;
- Structured change management approach;
- Dedicated resources and funding for change management; and
- Employee participation.
(2012, 2014 and 2016 Best Practices in Change Management, Prosci Inc.)
What does active and visible sponsorship mean?
The key sponsor (the executive or leader of the project rather than the change manager) needs to be seen and heard by staff at all levels throughout the project. People affected by change look to executives and senior leaders as the ‘preferred senders’ of key messages about the change (both spoken and unspoken). They take cues about the importance of the change by how the executives behave.
- Remember to address the people side of change (not just the process and technology aspects);
- Set clear expectations about the change and objectives of any project/s;
- Ensure accountability for results at all levels;
- Attend relevant project and staff meetings throughout the change;
- Resource the change appropriately;
- Are visible with decision making and progress updates throughout; and
- Actively manages resistance to change.
What does frequent and open communication look like?
The key points to effective communication during change are:
- Communicate often and in a variety of ways
Utilising a range of communication methods is critical. Owing to the scale of some change, it is natural to rely on email to get the message out to the most number of people. However, as we all have different learning preferences, using a variety of channels aids effective communication. Some examples of communication tools include: workshops, meetings, newsletters, events, webinars, videos, podcasts, status reports, walking around, intranet updates, FAQs, competitions, promotions and flyers.
Share key messages more often than you think you need to during change. The first time you announce a change to employees, they are often wondering how it will impact them and not focusing on the details. Throughout any change people will primarily be concerned with how it affects them and the ‘what’s in it for me’. So keep telling them the ‘why’ of the change and the expected benefits.
- Engage all formal and informal leaders
Most changes rely on good change agents throughout the business – it’s not just the senior leaders and sponsors that make change communication successful. Often, it is those embedded in the teams who have significant influence and can be positive agents for change. Make sure you identify some highly engaged change agents throughout and regularly provide them with updates and key messages to share about the change.
- Communicate the why and the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIFM)
Be clear about the reasons for the change: what are the objectives and desired outcomes? How do these link back to the overall business drivers and strategy? What would happen if the change didn’t happen? What is the impact on staff (WIFM), job security, role description, location etc. Keep coming back to the objectives of the change and expected benefits.
Be reliable and consistent with key messages and regular communication. Don’t wait until you have all the answers. Communicate what you do know and repeat key messages often.
Customise the communication for the audience: although you want consistent messaging in terms of key phrases, you can tailor and vary how you deliver the messages to have the most impact on the group you are targeting.
Keep communications as brief as possible to ensure readability and repeatability.
You cannot communicate too often during change. Many organisations experience difficulty during change because they communicate too little. Communicate often, remembering that people need to hear information 5-7 times, that they will be focusing on how it will impact them (WIFM) and need to hear the message in a variety of ways to truly absorb it. Most importantly, your change sponsors need to be communicating consistently, through both their words and actions.
Is your organisation making or planning changes? Consulting an expert change manager can make the process smoother, simpler and more successful for all stakeholders. Call me on 0409 589 030 to discuss how we can work together.