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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.