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The Dos and Don’ts of Communicating Through the Change Process

4 minute read

By Julie Nerney and Geoff Robins, authors of ‘Business Morphology: How to Navigate Through Change’.

People are the heart of any change activity (both those leading the change and those impacted by it). You must bring your people with you, not least because you want them to both adopt and advocate the change being made so that it will stick, ensuring that your desired outcomes are sustained. This means that communication is the spine of your change plan. It bridges the things you can control and those you need to influence. It needs to be the heartbeat of your plan – a regular drumbeat which runs through everything you do.

Here are our top tips for the Dos and Don’ts of your communication activities:

Do Don't

Start with why.

Your people need to know why things are changing, and you need that clarity too. The ‘why’ narrative is the framework that you hang all of your change communication off and it must be robust and credible enough to bear that weight.

Start with what.

Getting straight into solutions without the context makes people more likely to resist the change – firstly because they lack understanding of the context that is driving the change; and also, because you create the risk of people feeling like their contribution to shaping the change has been bypassed.

Be clear about when.

Providing an indication of when people can expect change – in broad terms – will give them comfort and time to prepare themselves, increasing the chances of adoption and potential advocacy. Seeing those things get delivered increases trust, confidence and belief.

Be so specific that you create hostages to fortune.

Things will change on your change journey, so make promises in general terms, e.g., which month or quarter people can expect significant change to happen. Don’t fall into the trap of sharing everything in the plan – behind the scenes enablers aren’t as important to communicate as those things which will have a direct impact on your people.

Answer the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question.

All of your change communication should be user centred and tell people what’s in it for them. This helps generate buy in and commitment to the change, and it is this momentum that can be converted into advocacy.

Fall into the trap of giving one size fits all answers.

Make sure that you tailor your responses to the different groups of staff based on their impact, demonstrating that you have listened to them and understand their needs.

Make sure you cover the ‘What does it mean for me?’ angle.

What’s in it for me is your sales pitch, but answering this question is all about providing reassurance. Your change plan will impact individuals and you should answer all questions as honestly as you can – even if it means saying ‘We’re not sure yet, but we’ll tell you as soon as we are.

Think that being transparent about personal impact will create disquiet, distraction or even panic.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you don’t fill it with information, myths and rumours will abound. These myths and rumours are the things that will absolutely cause disquiet and once started, they are almost impossible to eradicate.

Use the activity of change as an engagement opportunity.

Create chances for people to get involved in diagnosing problems, designing solutions, being a change advocate, or simply having their ideas and feedback heard.

Rely on one communication channel.

Consider multiple communication channels, tools, and formats to share your messages and invite contributions. Don’t skimp on the resource to manage this so that you can remain responsive to your people’s needs.

And the biggest trap to avoid is don’t just do any of these things once. They need to be repeated. Again. And again. And again. For the entire duration of the change journey and beyond. Each time you do serves to both reinforce and remind, as well as build confidence and belief.

Julie Nerney and Geoff Robins are business transformation experts and co-authors of Business Morphology: How to Navigate Through Change (published by Practical Inspiration Publishing).

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