When it comes to successful change management, communication is everything.
Experts say ineffective, inadequate, poorly conceived, and/or poorly timed communications can actually create resistance to change[i]. But how can you cut through all the noise out there and find an approach that resonates and feels authentic to you?
Drawing from different experts, research and concepts, we’ve compiled seven factors to consider when creating an internal communications strategy for change management:
1. First and foremost, articulate and make it known, the difference between project management and change management. It seems simple, but a refresher never hurts, especially among diverse teams that have a mix of both project management professionals and non-project and/or technical staff.
In a nutshell, a project manager is focused on development, governance and implementation; a change manager is focused on how change affects the trajectory of the project, and therefore, how stakeholders and end users are impacted and engaged. Having a clear definition of the difference of these roles, is the first and foremost step for creating an effective understanding and subsequent alignment with stakeholders.
2. With that distinction in mind, keep project management and change management separate. While the two need to be whole heartedly aligned, simply absorbing change communication as part of project management risks making it an entry into a project plan, versus a holistic force of transformation. Each function plays a pivotal role, particularly for large scale or high impact change, and both areas should be valued and invested in appropriately for the best possible change and business outcomes.
3. Connect the dots. Paul Landy, Chief of People & Transformation at QSuper, a Brisbane-based supperannuation fund, stressed the value of communication in a recent coversation[ii] with Australia’s Human Resources Director magazine (HRD) “You need to listen broadly and take time to understand the playing field at all levels – understanding the connectivity points across the business and the big levers to pull will result in not only great results for an organisation but also for its people,” he told the magazine. “If you can show the business that you are approaching transformation from both an employee and a company perspective, they are much more likely to support your transformation.” In other words, change management needs to be largely focused from the bottom-up, not just the top-down.
4. Embrace new workplace models of communication. In ‘Change Management 2.0’, a new whitepaper[iii] earning a featured spot on the Change Management Institute website, Ira Blake argues that “fundamental social and technological shifts, such as social and enterprise networking, virtual organisations, and blurring of the line between work and life, are changing the way people live, work and collaborate.” This, she says, will force change managers to “rethink their basic assumptions of communication.” Blake, author of ‘Project Managing Change’ and assessor for the Change Management Institute, makes a compelling case that the future of change management will move in the following directions:
Source: Figure 5 – “Change Management 2.0” [iv]
5. Engage team members and stakeholders where they are. Blake also poses an interesting notion by encouraging change managers to “design new approaches” to communication, citing examples such as hackathons, “randomised coffee trials” and connecting via online and off-line communities of interest. Such initiatives will depend on the environment and audience, but in essence, creative thinking is in order for better engagement and buy-in.
6. Be vulnerable. Communication is nothing without honesty, transparency and trust. “A new psychological contract is required between managers and employees characterised by diminishing hierarchical power, a culture of permission and individual courage,” Blake writes.
7. Focus on integrative strategies. “Leadership, communication and culture are the triumvirate bedrock for change, be it good or bad, effective or ineffective”, as inferred by “A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management[v],” an amalgam of advice and insights from noted practitioners and thought leaders and edited by Craig Pearce. The guide highlights valuable research that invites further investigation, including a study by Towers Watson[vi] that found that companies with effective change management communications are “three and a half times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers than firms that are not effective in these areas.” The report also found managers can have a major impact in helping communicate change, calling them a “catalyst for building community”.
Everyone wants to be a better communicator and we can all agree change is here to stay.
By insisting on an organic, earnest core to every part of your internal communications strategy, and discarding old top-down, control-based methodologies, change may no longer be the resisted notion it once was.
Tell us, what internal communications approaches or strategies have you found especially helpful in effective change management?