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.