25th November, 2021.
Change is a vital and common part of any evolving organisation. As such, change management communications consume a big chunk of an internal communication team’s time – whether that is communicating an acquisition, the implementation of new software or procedures, a new brand identify or simply a change in personnel.
Whatever the change, and no matter how positive that change, some of your employees will feel unnerved by the change while others will feel excited. Every change management project is complex for an internal communicator because of the strong emotions employees will feel.
We also have to deal with the fact that a significant number of change projects fail, or at least encounter serious problems. The statement that “70% of change projects fail” is well known in the corporate world and while some argue for this stat and some argue against, what is clear is that any change management project is very likely to experience a bumpy journey, particularly if it is a large project.
But what can internal communications do to make this journey smoother?
Thankfully you don’t need to manage the change project which means you won’t be worrying about the ROI or how to resource the project. But you will need to provide timely and relevant information to those who need it throughout the change project. You are basically the mechanism for momentum: you stick together everything everyone is doing and bring other employees aboard for the journey!
The point of bringing employees onboard is a particularly important one. There is a saying that “you will only transform when you have changed how people behave” and this is particularly pertinent for change communications. No matter how successful the acquisition of a new company is, or the implementation of new software, the project can only be counted as a success if your employees embrace the new way of working and continue to align with your goals and values. Without this vital step, the success of the project will always be restricted.
So, what can you do to make an organisations change project as successful as possible?
We all know there is no point sharing a communication if it is of no relevance to the recipient. With change communications the recipient may be resistant to the project and not wish to hear your communication so the need to segment effectively is even more important.
Consider all of your audiences; from the employees who will need to adapt how they work as a result of the change, to the people making the change happen, to the leadership team.
Whilst your number one job is to communicate transparent updates to keep everyone informed, you may also need to do an element of education. For example, does your leadership team and deployment team fully understand the importance and value of internal communications during a change programme? If they don’t, you need to spell it out to them because a change communication plan without the support of leaders and managers is going to be an uphill struggle.
So, while considering your audiences consider the type of communication you will need. Also consider whether each of those audiences may have people sitting in different camps. Could you have some that are in favour of change and some that are hesitant of change for example? If so, are there ways in which you can segment these groups so that you can build communications that are better suited to each audience?
Spend time considering each audience. Speak to some of them if that would be useful. By the end of this phase, you want to feel as though you could step into the shoes of each segmented audience member and be confident in the information they would like to, and need to, hear.
Depending on the number of segmented audiences you have, you may find it useful to create an audience persona for each to refer to as you build your communications. These personas would be an average profile of someone in each group and include points that will really impact how they receive your internal communications. For example, what pains will they experience, what hesitations are they likely to have, who within the business is likely to influence their opinion, etc? These will help you keep your messages focused.
The more you can understand the audiences you will be communicating with the more pertinent your internal communications will be.
If you have a strong culture your task is far easier. Your employees will be invested in the change and that positivity will see most people through any challenging periods.
That said, depending on the scale and type of change, even the strongest of cultures can start to crack. This is something to keep a close eye on throughout the project. Scheduling regular employee pulse checks would be an effective way to monitor this.
Should culture be a concern for you it will be important to put a far greater emphasis on communications. Your employees are likely to need greater levels of communications to provide reassurance and keep them focused. Meanwhile your management should also play a heavier role in connecting with employees during the project to support and listen to them.
It will also be worth pointing out your cultural concerns to the leadership team to ensure they are aware of the potential issues. The more aware everyone is, the more can be done to help align everyone with the project and wider organisational goals.
This will also be an opportunity to get to know the individuals who will be responsive for rolling the project out. This will give you a good feel as to who is best placed to keep you updated throughout the project. The better this connection the more timely and accurate your communications.
If you are unsure of the effectiveness of previous change management communications projects, or if there is no evidence of any, speak to people. Inevitably, unless you are in a very young business, every organisation will have experienced change at some point and that change will have been communicated somehow. Speak to those involved in rolling out the project but also speak to people at the receiving end. While this process may not bring complete clarity over what you should do, it is likely to unearth some things that you shouldn’t do!
First start with the how. How will you communicate to each of your audiences? Will the same method work for everyone or do you need to consider different routes. For example, while email might be effective for office workers, if you have frontline or shop floor employees they need to receive their information in a different way such as through an internal communications app.
If you already have effective channels of communication in place great, but if you don’t, depending on the scale of the change project, it may be worth exploring other options. If the employees who need to know about the project don’t receive your internal communications, or receive a diluted or delayed message, distrust and a sense of uneasiness is likely to manifest.
It is also worth considering multiple channels of communication. What works for one employee may not work for the other and for particularly important messages during the project, multiple channel communication will help to emphasis its importance.
You also need to consider the format of communication you are going to use. Traditionally we communicate in written form but could some of your change communications be better as a video, image, infographic or face-to-face. While you don’t want to create unnecessary work for yourself, it is important to consider all of your audiences and identify the mediums that are likely to best resonate with each group.
We would recommend you have a high-level timeline for quick reference to help others in your team, and wider organisation, understand what needs to happen when. Download our free communication change timeline to get started on this. Change management timeline template
Throughout your communications as the duration of the project unravels, remember to regularly remind employees of the purpose of the change. As delays or problems occur and employees are inconvenienced by the work, it is easy to lose sight of the end goal. Regular reminders of how their working life will be improved once the change project is completed will always be valuable.
The final but most important step in your change management communication process. This is often a step that is overlooked (48% of communicators do not monitor the effectiveness of their internal comms), but it will make or break your change communication plan.
After the time you have spent crafting your change communication plan you must track and measure its effectiveness. This will help you understand which communications are resonating and which aren’t. With the right data, you will also be able to see which teams are engaging with your communications and which aren’t. This is hugely valuable information that will enable you to adjust your plan and target specific groups with key messages.
With data in your back pocket, you can react and respond. You can identify ‘problem’ groups and adjust your strategy. Those who use our internal communications software will also use our analytics to identify potential issues before they have bubbled to the surface. For example, they can see engagement levels over a set time period and should a previously engaged team suddenly disengage they have conversations within the business to identify why. This means they can often resolve an engagement problem before it has impacted anyone else in the business.
In a project where there are so many variables this level of insight can make a massive difference to the effectiveness of the communications plan.
Of course, to be able to utilise this level of data you will need internal comms software to support you. If you are not currently in a position to utilise such software there are still other ways to measure your success. Granted they won’t give you the same level of insight but the data will still be useful. Here are a few methods you could use:
The key takeaway is to measure as much as possible. The more you know about how your change communication plan is being received, the more you can do to improve it. The more you can do to improve it, the more successful it will be.
With over 15 years’ experience in communications I have seen first-hand the difference strong internal communications can make. I am passionate about helping organisations reap the rewards of an engaged workforce and feel privileged to work for an organisation that has this same passion. We can achieve so much more when we work together towards the same goals.