How to Create a Change Management Communications Plan that Works

change management communications

Whether your change is a massive global project, or a small, but critical behavior change, the success of the effort is largely dependent on how well the program is communicated. 

Below are nine critical steps to building a change communication plan that will drive success in you change efforts and make the behavior change stick.

change communications plan

  1. Agree on key messages and align them to major milestones.  Be aligned on what you’re saying and when the messages will go out. Project timelines are always a moving target and knowing the best time to relay critical information with specific calls to action is imperative to making the project appear credible. It’s hard to inspire behavior change when your audience doubts that the team can follow through on their promises.
  2. Don’t be afraid to over-communicate.  Most people need to hear something about 5 to 7 times before the message begins to sink in, so communicate often and through a variety of channels. It’s better to be redundant than under communicating critical messages which leave employees to fill in the gaps with their own assumptions. 
  3. Personalize the voice of the change. If the change is internally focused, employees will want to hear updates from their direct manager or the project sponsor.  If the project sponsor is unknown or a poor communicator, consider appointing a spokesperson that employees can relate to and enjoy hearing from. Avoid sending communications from the project team. Messages from generic aliases are most likely to be ignored.
  4. Be creative with communications.  While email communications can be effective, a story is best told in a number of formats.  Experiment with video interviews, live events, success stories and even a podcast where employees can take in content on the go.
  5. Always be driving the messaging from a position of WIIFM (what’s in it for me) and address both needs and wants.  If you’re telling a story that doesn’t involve or impact the audience in some way, you will have a hard time getting their attention.
  6. Paint a compelling before and after picture that employees can buy into.  Clearly demonstrate the pain point that the project solves and why change is necessary.  Then paint a picture of what change looks like, how the company will be transformed and how it will benefit employees. Be sure to articulate what’s at risk if change doesn’t happen.  
  7. Always start with the why behind the change. Most employees will immediately fixate on the what and how because it relates to how they will be personally impacted, but if they can understand the why first, it will help them process the bigger picture more effectively.
  8. Keep the messages simple and digestible.  A study done by Towers Watsons shows that while 68% of Senior Management understands and can articulate change, only 53% of middle managers and 40% of first-line supervisors claim to understand change initiatives enough to effectively communicate key messages to their employees.  Note that very often, front-line managers are the most critical link in the communications change process, so if they don’t get it, most of your employees won’t either.
  9. Once the project is complete, the story must go on.  In the same Towers Watsons study, they reported that while employers felt that 55% of their change management efforts met their initial objectives, only 25% were able to sustain the gains long term.  In order to make change stick, the spokesperson needs to keep the narrative alive and moving forward by demonstrating wins and telling stories of ongoing success. 

change management managers are failing

The key to a managing a successful change effort that lands well and stays the course is to start the story early, make it compelling, tell it often, and then when the initiative is complete, ensure the story gets weaved into business as usual communications so the effort sticks. 

Good luck!

Engaging Employees in Organizational Change: How to Foster Ownership & Avoid Resistance.

employee engagement change management

“Resistance is proportional to the size and speed of the change, not to whether the change is a favorable or unfavorable one.” ~ George Leonard

Said differently, the more you change all at once, the greater the likelihood is that you’ll fail. This is something to keep in mind if you’re trying to implement personal change in your own life (like losing weight or creating healthy habits), but what about organizations that need to transform rapidly in order to stay relevant in an evolving market or require massive infrastructure changes for greater scalability?

 

communicating change

Implementing change, sometimes a lot all at once is necessary to stay competitive.  So how do you communicate change under these circumstances and avoid resistance?

Very carefully.

Engaging your audience with a comms strategy that invokes trust, personal accountability and interest will go a long way to executing organizational change quickly and effectively. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

    • Be crystal clear about why your current path isn’t working and what the proposed end-state will look like. This means answering two questions right up front: why we need to change and what will happen to us if we don’t. That message defines the “why”  behind the change initiative, shapes the narrative for communication and drives the call to action for everyone who needs to make it happen.
    • Have high-level sponsors driving the change, but don’t assume that person(s) should also be a spokesperson for it. Not all leaders are effective change-agents or dynamic enough to garner attention and trust. Chose a spokesperson that’s well respected, closer to the impacted groups organizationally, and has a personality that can sustain attention over a long period of time. Dry, corporate-speak is what you want to avoid. Humor, relatability and familiarity are what you’re looking for in an effective spokesperson.
    • Communicate calls to action through middle management. Employees have a greater sense of accountability to their managers and are more likely to take action on their requests rather than a company-wide memo, so ensure there’s a thoughtful cascade of actions that come from the appropriate person.
    • Leverage two-way communications as much as possible. Having a knowledge base where employees can go for info is a must, but providing a channel for asking questions, providing feedback and raising issues will accelerate problem-solving by providing a much greater line-of-sight into unforeseen impacts and creative solutions.
    • Communicate often and openly. Set a cadence and stick to it. Whether that’s weekly updates or a quarterly review, your employees should come to expect regular updates. When communications become infrequent or inconsistent, the initiative is out of sight and out of mind. Work as transparently as possible, providing insight into what’s going well and what’s not. Invite opportunity for feedback and creative solutions to complex issues. Bottom line – don’t assume your employees are thinking about organizational change unless they are personally impacted in a significant way. Most people are focused on what’s in front of them.
    • Be creative. Use video, infographics, podcasts and blogs to share stories and provide progress. Commit not just to educating your audience, but to entertaining them as well. It will make your messages stickier and anticipated.


Resistance arises when pressure is applied.  Pressure in the form of too many one-way, static communications that get largely ignored until they’re strongly enforced is not ideal.  If you can take a collaborative, open approach from the start, you invite your employees to be part of the process of change and empower them to take ownership of the outcome.

Changing Behavior En Masse

behavior Change

A little-known fact about me is that in addition to my “day job” as a communications professional, I’m also a certified personal trainer.  I don’t actually train anyone (I did it more out of curiosity than anything else), but in addition to basic fitness knowledge, I also learned a lot about the stages of behavior change people go through before they take on new habits.

These stages can be applied to any activity (not just fitness) and they range from “I don’t even know I have a problem yet” all the way to “omg, I’ve solved my problem”.  I find this process incredibly relevant to the work my team is tackling right now with the deployment of our new company-wide collaborative platform.

behavior change

The problem we faced (that we didn’t even know we had)

For decades my company has grown via acquisition.  We’re a Hodge Podge of smaller organizations, brought together because of compelling technology and brainpower (I came into the organization as an acquisition as well).

While this growth model has its benefits – broader technology base and customer reach, etc., it also creates siloed organizations that have a hard time adopting parent company culture and workflow processes.  So we needed to improve transparent work habits in our organization, and we looked to jive to provide the solution we needed.

Now Jive as a platform is great, but getting people to “see the light” so to speak has been a task of epic proportion.

First, we had the pre-contemplation issue – we didn’t realize we weren’t working as effectively as we could because to date, email was about as collaborative as we knew how to be.  Fortunately, we had a few brilliant minds that had the foresight to know what true collaboration could do for us as an organization, and they advocated for the technology.

I’ll admit I took on the deployment of jive half-heartedly.  I was not a believer until recently (about 4 months post-deployment).  It took me that long to figure out the true benefit of the platform that came to me as an epiphany one afternoon while tinkering with a landing page.  It occurred to me how effective a curated area of relevant and contextual content can be to getting my job done and having everything I need in one tidy little space.  Let’s just say, if you’re a fan of to-do lists and date calendars, this is your techno-dream-come-true.

But bringing the rest of the organization on board with this vision has been a struggle.  I guess I had to “see the light” first, before I could convince others to, as well.

The Solution (How we’re raising awareness and changing behavior)

So how do you bring an entire global organization from the pre-contemplative “do we have a problem?” stage to being power-users of a technology platform that can improve workforce productivity by a landslide? My thought is to use small “micro-behavioral asks” with a lot of visual storytelling along the way.   Basically, you’ve got to be extremely specific about what you’re asking folks to do and be even more explicit about why you’re asking for the behavior change.

We’ve been doing this through a broad-messaged storytelling strategy, complemented by “boots on the ground” tactical reinforcements.  So as we’re sharing “commercial” videos that tell the story at a high level, we’re also doing live drop-in training groups.  While we send out company-wide emails and blogs about the vision we’re working toward, we also sit in on team staff meetings to explain the benefits and possibilities with group leaders and recruit early adopters and influencers aggressively.

The hope is that by communicating the big vision broadly, while tactically demonstrating the value in a more personalized and relevant interaction, that we’re going to get the message across and the necessary behaviors changed.

Big Vision + Tactical Demonstration = Strategic Behavior Change.

That’s the goal.

I’ll write more on our progress as we move along.

Perfect starts to look the same after a while.

I’ve lost my love of Instagram.

It was so cool for a while. Like Facebook, but without the haters. It was a scrolling visual of fun, in-the-moment pictures taken by people you know and people you don’t. It had substance because it was real.

It’s not like that anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that Instagram is littered with perfectly composed, well-lit pictures of the same things. I keep seeing the same shot taken from a top down view of a coffee mug, an Apple keyboard, maybe a day planner with a pretty cover and a foot or hand angled in.

Untitled design (12) Untitled design (13)

I don’t know about you, but my workspace generally looks like this (on a really good day)…

my workspace

It’s far from perfect, but hey, guess what – it really does look that way. I bet yours does, too.

This week on Crew, Nirzar Pangarkar compared authenticity to beauty and the best virtue won. You should go read it.

Too lazy? No worries, here’s the takeaway:

Our attention spans continue to get smaller and smaller while our bullshit meter’s get sharper and sharper. Perfectly crafted content sucks the personality right out of it. It’s not authentic because it lacks the stuff life is made of, like grammatical errors and messy workspaces.

I’m not suggesting that we should all stop proofreading or taking photos in natural light. Aiming for quality content it a great thing. But I feel like the emphasis on creating a perfectly coiffed brand in social media is gaining at the expense of authenticity and realness. Perfect all starts to look the same after a while.

Remember, realness is still what us humans relate to. It’s also what makes us stand apart from everyone else.

“Follow your passion” is the worst career advice ever.

I heart my careerIt’s rare that I consider a book life changing, but this one comes close. Not because of any great epiphany that changed the course of my life, but because it validates my skepticism for the “follow your passion” maxim I hear so often.

deep work

Seeking passion in a career path is like searching for depth and wisdom in a Kardashian. You’re looking for something that isn’t a natural part of the package and if you hit upon it, it’s probably artificial or likely to fade. Rather, if you approach your career path with a craftsman’s (or craftswoman’s) perspective,  and consider what skill can you develop that will add meaning to your life while adding value to others, over time you’re going to become pretty remarkable at what you do, and that will make you feel good about doing it.

Bingo.

The pursuit of passion left me jobless and wondering “WTF what just happened”?

After years of resenting my marketing career because it didn’t give me the ability to “express myself”, I quit my corporate job in 2008 and moved to India to learn to teach yoga in an ashram. (Zero jokes here, I seriously did this.) In doing so, I broke rule number 2 and 3 of Cal’s book by not building career capital in the field of yoga over time and by rejecting the idea of making small strategic decisions rather than large sweeping risks (which is what I did). Cal explicitly calls out my career faux pas by referencing a woman who literally did the same thing I did, and ended up on food stamps.

Fortunately, my situation never got that drastic, but I did take a huge step back in my career trajectory, losing years of growth and wages. I don’t regret a moment of my adventure because it gave me something else that’s equally valuable – self-awareness and a great story to tell. That said, I didn’t need to jump off a career cliff to achieve those things, either.

The passion strategy won’t serve you in the long run…

Passion is fleeting. What I am interested now (employee engagement, The Walking Dead, and trying to fit exercise into a 2+ hour daily commute), probably won’t consume me in 5 years. Humans are dynamic and ever changing in their interests, unlike my pug who has been interested in nothing but food and tennis balls since we rescued her 8 years ago. If you follow your career passions today, where will that leave you in 5 years? Chasing the passion of the moment, no doubt.

I will say that Cal’s approach to building a craft and experimenting with different ways to apply it has a far greater payoff. As a writer, I’m currently focusing my craft on business communications and executive messaging. But I’m also taking “small risks” with blogging because it’s an expansion (not a departure) from my core skill of writing. By experimenting with different applications of my craft, I’m adding to my paint brush collection rather than tossing all my paints away in favor of a new medium.

Passion for Potty

There’s one more fundamental flaw with the “follow your passion” mindset. Consider what the world would be like if everyone took this advice literally. We’d be a universe of life coaches and pop stars with no one to empty Port-a-Potties or maintain public washrooms. I double dog dare you to find someone who’s passionate about cleaning toilets. And yet, we need that.  Passion driven careers are typically saturated with too many people jockeying for the same opportunities.  A career focused on craft and improved with small strategic decisions allows for specialization and expertise that’s coveted, not commodified.

In my career right now (post yoga debacle), I’m always looking for ways to build on my craft, while tweaking the context of where I do it.  I enjoy writing and as a result, I’m pretty good at it, but it took me a while to back into that skill as I experimented with building businesses and working in different roles and companies.  I didn’t always love the work, but when I dissected what I really did love, content creation was always on the list.

The piece I continue to refine is where and what I’m writing.  Am I better off with a corporate job, or taking my chances at freelancing?  Web copy or corporate messaging? I doubt I’ll ever stop experimenting with the who and how. In my current role, rarely a week goes by that I don’t hear a colleague admit to me that they’re not great communicators or it’s not their strength.  I think they’re wrong, but I don’t fight them on it too much as their perceived weakness is my job security.  So in the end, I’ve cultivated a craft that others find value in and that I feel confident that I’m pretty good at.  And guess what – because I have confidence in my craft, I like doing it.  No passion required.

Back to Cal’s book, I think it should be a required reading for all senior high school students, ready to embark on a working career. Before they pick a college major, before they declare their lifelong career goals (which I think is ridiculous at that age), they should read Cal’s book and consider what they might have to offer the world that the world might actually value. Then go from there.