Change communications – simplify the message and maximize engagement
Blog posted by: Martin Stretton – Transformation Programme Director, NFER, 11 October 2021.
A lot of business change communications can be one way and, whilst this is informative and raises awareness, the key is achieving a two-way dialogue with the opportunity for people to share their views and be heard.
During Covid-19, there have been fewer chances to do that with the lack of working physically alongside others. You can use virtual sessions, videos, email and other digital channels but it’s not the same as having proximity and the beauty of less formal, more spontaneous moments to converse.
When trying to convey information about change and what it means to the organization and to employees, put simply you need people to understand what you’re saying. However, during something like digital transformation, there is a danger of using a lot of jargon and techno-babble that will confuse a lot of people. Therefore, the messaging needs to be simple.
Before you embark on change communications, it’s essential to understand the context and culture of the organization. For example, different teams may have been using a variety of legacy systems and approaches for many years; any change can increase fear and suspicion about what it means to them, especially with the current pace of digital transformation in companies. So, messaging needs to allay people’s fears from the outset and make them feel they are part of something exciting.
The risks of getting change communications wrong
Once you’re ready to communicate change, the aim is to maximize engagement and reduce confusion.
Without this, you risk alienating employees which will affect their ability to accept and embrace the change.
What we are aiming for is to reach a tipping point where more people are “on the bus” with the change than not. That will encourage and motivate others to follow (though accepting that not everyone will).
Communications that work company-wide
In most organizations there is a “mixed economy” of staff with workforces spanning generations, including those further along in their career and others just starting out. Communicating effectively to a broad base of employees can be challenging.
For example, when introducing a company-wide system (such as Microsoft 365), some people will have experience of it already from previous organizations, while others will only know legacy systems. So, it’s key to help them understand what it means and what’s in it for them.
A useful approach is to create personas and target messages to the “lowest common denominator”. For example, “Sally” has worked at the company for 30 years and has no experience of using new systems and tools. So, aiming communications at Sally will ensure the language used is easy to understand, accessible and relatable to everyone.
This means we avoid technical jargon – rather than saying “system integration”, we talk about “systems interacting with each other” – and keep real people in mind when devising messages. Consequently, individuals should understand the benefits and help the change happen.
In fact, we have started using the real-life “Sally” (not her real name) to review our planned communications. This way, we’ve been able to create simpler, more accessible and relatable communications in the organizational context to support the process.
Best practice approaches to challenges
Learnings about creating and communicating a vision from Dr John Kotter’s change model, something I keenly advocate, certainly chime with the methods in Managing Successful Programmes (MSP®).
Also, in MSP, the stakeholder mapping and engagement techniques – along with programme leadership guidance – are especially useful. For example, stakeholder mapping allows you to potentially create multiple personas (from the board through to “Sally”) that will enable clear, targeted and comprehensive communication of the vision.
Ultimately, it offers a really practical approach to think about what you’re communicating, to whom and how.
When conveying change, you don’t want language to be a barrier – people need to understand, relate and appreciate what it means to them.
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