Five top tips for Change Communication
Do you remember a Leader who was a charismatic communicator? Or have you seen some fantastic change communication in the past? Of the kind where you thought: “Wow, I wish I could have said this so well”, or “I wish I could have gotten this across so convincingly”? For me, my favourite pieces of change communication – the ones that stick in my mind – have touched me emotionally!
“Communication that touches the emotions or conveys very personal stories of change is the most powerful!” – Cathrin Kolb
Communication for behavioural change – neither perfect nor polished – but memorable!
In my last job with a large consulting firm, compliance, risk and customer confidentiality was a HUGE topic. I still remember the regular (email) communications we received from the Service Quality Leader, instructing us not to fall foul of phishing attempts, be careful not to send confidential information to the wrong client (I am amazed, but apparently it happens a lot!) and not to get our laptops stolen.
We did yearly compulsory compliance training – and they were good, but the regular email newsletters had a much bigger impact on my awareness. That’s why: this senior person in the organisation, Service Quality Leader, told us about his own little mishaps and we learned about his peculiarities, because he shared stories from his own professional and personal life. He made the messages relatable and memorable. I loved reading about his son and his friends, who – being typical students – got into all sorts of trouble. And I remember his training for the London Marathon (message: need for a good plan and the drive for implementation), or him falling asleep in the sun during a company event, and fotos of his sun-burnt face being circulated (message: the dangers of social media).
I could absolutely relate to his stories and bought into the message he wanted to transport. His communication was credible and his newsletters always entertaining. I read every single one of them.
“Communication does not need to be perfect or polished – the more engaging and personal the more memorable!” – Cathrin Kolb
Five top tips for Change Communication
Now, drawing from my experience in numerous change programmes across multiple sectors, facing many different business challenges, these are my five top tips for “Communication for successful Change”:
1. Be clear about the reasons for the change and the benefits that have been identified
This is crucial, you and the senior management team need to be clear why the change is necessary and need to be able to articulate it clearly. Ideally you will put together a business case – then you will have all the arguments (pros and cons, business needs, competitive environment, …) worked out. When you go through a robust project prioritisation and selection process, all people involved will have the same understanding and be able to communicate an aligned message. This is important to avoid mixed messages and therefore confusion.
2. Create a vision for the change with the project team and share it with the key stakeholders
Following on from tip 1, once you can express the reasons for the change and the benefits you expect, work out what the future will look like and share this vision with the stakeholders. There are a few tools you can use to define a vision. In the past I have used the 18 Word Vision Tool, and I am teaching this in Lesson 1 of the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change” . It is an easy exercise where everyone in the team writes down their vision in no more than 18 words and in a team exercise you come up with a shared 18 Word Vision. Another great and impactful way is storytelling or the use of metaphors.
3. Develop a Communication Strategy and bring it to life by committing to communication activities in a Communication Plan
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
With your project team, devise your communication strategy for the change Then operationalise it (= make it very practical) by producing a detailed communication plan. Make sure you are happy with the overall frequency of the communication, the messaging, the media and tools used. You will be comfortable the message will be transported adequately to give the change project the chance to succeed. I have developed a few practical tools to help with this. Lesson 2 in the Online Course “Communicate for successful Change” is completely dedicated to this topic and talks you through devising a communication strategy, developing (or reviewing) a detailed communication plan, writing powerful change communication and selecting the most appropriate means of communication. If you want to have a sneak peek, request the free resource: Checklist to “Draft effective Change Communication”.
4. Spot resistance and be prepared to hold difficult conversations
As the Project Sponsor sometimes it is up to you to hold difficult conversations when a member of the management team or a member of staff acts with resistance to the intended change. This slows down or sometimes boycotts the project. You might be close enough that you spot resistance, or the project manager asks for your support. Be mindful of the politics and power dynamics and also the HR processes in your organisation. You could use these difficult conversations as a coaching opportunity for the project manager, more junior managers or team leaders.
5. Own your communication responsibilities!
Commit to the communication activities you want to carry out over the course of the project. It’s a good idea to capture them in the communication plan. Unfortunately in the past I have often seen Project Sponsors making the mistake of abdicating their communication responsibilities to external consultants or junior people in the organisation. The impact of the change message can never be as powerful as when it comes from the Project Sponsor direct.
“Communication is the real work of leadership” – Nitin Nohria
“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.