Avoid these ten mistakes Project Sponsors commit in Change Communication

Have you ever committed any of these communication crimes?

10 Communication Mistakes

Avoid these ten mistakes Project Sponsors commit in Change Communication

If you have read any of my materials on change communication, you will have come across the statement:

The most important role a Project Sponsor has to play in the change context is the “Cheerleader for Change” – Cathrin Kolb

What does this mean? You have to communicate more! But what are the pitfalls in Change Communication?

Top ten mistakes to avoid in change communication and how to avoid them

1. Abdicating your Project Sponsor Change Communication responsibilities

Imagine a Project Sponsor who is very charismatic at the project kick off meeting but is never seen again! Is the message about the importance of the change credible to the workforce? The Project Sponsor needs to be the “face of the change”. Talk the talk and also walk the walk. You need to be seen as the first person to change and you need to talk about it! A great reminder for what it is all about:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

2. Not communicating often enough

I keep repeating that you can’t communicate enough and that you should be using different means of communication to make sure your message lands well with the different audiences. People need to hear a message multiple times and with different words so that they understand it and take it in.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate!! Repeat the message often, with different words and by using different means of communication – people take in information in different ways” – Cathrin Kolb

The best way to go about it is to capture your communication activities in a Communication Plan. This is how you can make sure to plan regular communication and use different means of communication.

3. Not making use of a communication cascade

You would be missing a trick if you weren’t using other senior managers or team leaders as communicators of the change. Their advantage is that they can use the face-to-face route to staff and answer their burning questions. You communicate from the top and you use your peers and team leaders to transport the same vision and the same message to their teams, to emphasise your message. Make use of regular department or team meetings or already scheduled team, department or company events.

4. Not allowing two-way conversation

To communicate change you need to do a lot of “talking at people”. But don’t forget the two-way element to communication. Here are a few ideas on how to include a feedback loop in your communication: Collect questions that are on peoples’ minds before you host a communication conference call, a webbased briefing event or a townhall meeting and address them. In team communication, encourage the quieter team members to contribute. You might be surprised at their insights. Equip your peers with communication briefs or Q&As so that they are ready to answer questions that might come up. Make use of any tools that staff are already familiar with to get a conversation going: chats, intranet functionality, yammer (facebook for companies), etc.

5. Over-reliance on email

There are many other means of communication that you can use in Change Communication. I am quite excited about all the options. Depending on the budget available for Change Communication, this is what you can do: organise events, have an information stand in a central location talking about the change and giving demos, floorwalkers, deskdrops of materials or useful gadgets inscribed with your metaphor or project name. Endless options – not just email communication. I have developed a Means of Communication Selection Matrix, which evaluates the 37 different means listed according to their suitability for transferring information or encouraging engagement. The Matrix also gives you an indication whether a means of communication is suitable for two-way communication. I use this Matrix in Lesson 2 of the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change”.

6. Withholding important information

Have you ever had to announce redundancies? This is probably the most uncomfortable change communication you can do. My attitude towards communication in a change context is to be honest and to treat your staff with respect – that’s how you would want to be treated, right? I would rather know what I can expect than being left in the dark. And even if you don’t know it all yet, communicate what you know already and let people know the communication strategy going forward – so that they know when they can expect further news.

7. Not articulating the need for the change

If you cannot articulate the reason behind the change, it will be an uphill struggle! You will be facing strong resistance, e.g. “This initiative is just another new flavour of the month”, “I am not getting involved, I hope this will blow over, like the last initiative”. If you however want to create buy-in for the change and get people on board, try expressing the need for the change in terms of “what’s in it for them”. What will it mean for them and how might their working life be easier or better thanks to the change?

8. Not giving a clear vision of the future

When we first set out on a change journey, the end result is often not easy to grasp! Start with expressing the reasons for the change and the benefits you expect. Then work out what the future will look like and share this vision with the stakeholders. Have you heard the expression “start with the end in mind”? Once people that will be impacted by the change know what their world will look like in the future, it will be much easier for them to get there.

9. Sending out mixed messages

If you have committed any of the mistakes #6, #7 or #8, there is a good chance that key stakeholders in the change will receive mixed messages. Different people in the organisation might have different pieces of information (due to their seniority and involvement in the project), communication isn’t based on a shared understanding. You might also be dealing with different political agendas. Avoid this scenario under all circumstances, so as not to confuse the workforce and create resistance towards the change. How to go about it? Back to basics: articulate the reason behind the change, establish a clear change vision and share these according to your detailed Communication Plan (repeat the messages many times, with different words and use multiple means of communication). And spend some time with the project team, educating the key stakeholders, so that everyone tells the same story. Off you go!

10. Not checking communication for effectiveness

This is crucial! Make sure that the communication activities you have scheduled in the Communication Plan are delivering the message and you achieve the purpose of your Communication Strategy. Some easy ways to check for effectivness are informal conversations with staff to ask for understanding and answer any open questions. Get creative and send out surveys to “feel the pulse” of the people impacted by the change. Another good indicator of whether the change communication is effective, is to monitor the relevant change indicators (KPIs). E.g. are you monitoring the identified savings or the sales or operational indicators to check whether the project activities are delivering the anticipated benefits?

“Communicate for successful Change” – practical Online Course


If you want to become more visible and more proactive in Change Communication or if you want to brush up on some of your Change Communication skills, why not find out more about the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change”?

I’d be happy to accompany you on your Project Sponsor journey.

Please call me on +44 7855 919748 or send me an E-mail to Cathrin.Kolb@projectsponsorguide.com. I am looking forward to an informal conversation to discuss your specific Project Sponsor needs.