11 Ways to Communicate Change

by Daniel Lock

communicate-change

How do you lose weight? That’s right, eat less and exercise more. But like many things in life, knowing makes no difference. Change management is a lot like exercise, we often know what we want to do, but how do we change the how the circumstances show up such that people want to make the change.

In this article, I’ll look at how to communicate the change such that people take action.

1.  Be Specific

How do you lose weight? Exercise more and eat less. Everyone ‘knows’ that, but knowing makes no differences. The first step in making a real change is to have a specific target in mind that would represent success.

Instead ask: “How much weight do you want to lose, and by when?”

This significantly increases the chances of successful change as we know what we’re aiming for, and thus letting us know whether our actions are bringing us closer or further away.

Otherwise, we just descend into slogans.

Being specific about personal or organisational goal matters.

Numerous studies show, setting vague and ambiguous goals allows you and others to squirm out of it.

So, when you say “Organizational Change and/or Transformation” what are you talking about?

  • The term Organizational Transformation is just too ambiguous for clear measurement.
  • Do you mean, specifically, one of the following initiatives?
    • The implementation of some (major) software solution
    • Merging with another organization
    • Flattening or otherwise changing the organizational structure
    • Implementing Lean, Six Sigma or Agile processes
    • Major cost reductions
    • Entering a new market or developing a new product

2. Say Why

Too often when initiating change leaders want to withhold the real reasons for the change, fearing that people will resist or freak out if they were to find out. Well, I have news for you, they will find out and if you don’t tell them and be upfront they will be suspicious of your motives for the duration.

Instead, telling people why the change is important [Download My Exclusive eBook on Change Management] and why it must be done now alleviates any fantasy and ironically makes the change more likely to stick.

To illustrate why it’s important to create an interruption or crisis, consider this study conducted by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. She conducted research with obese women, wondering how do our expectations impact goal achievement.

The outcomes of the study are amazing. The women with the expectation fantasy lost on average twenty-four pounds less than those whose expectations were that this would be tough.

Creating a crisis isn’t negative-nelly thinking; it galvanises people to take both urgent and realistic actions.

The annals of business literature are littered with companies who’ve relied on their market dominance, believing they could not fail, and well, failed.

As a change manager, create the crisis, by creating the urgent case for change.

To create the urgent case for action, with your key stakeholders, ask and answer the following questions:

  • What is the default future of our department or organization?
  • If we don’t take action now, where will we end up?
  • If we don’t act now, what risks will we be exposed to?
  • If we don’t act now, what opportunities will we miss?

3. Repeat, repeat, repeat the purpose, and actions planned

This cannot be underestimated. Often the change will fall into a lull during the middle of the project, hearing no questions, management will often believe all is well and pull back on the communications.

Big mistake.

Don’t ever assume people ‘know’ or that they get it. Just like the politicians during election campaigns repeat ad nauseam their simplified slogans, you’ll need to do the same.

Follow up the meetings with a second, third, fourth and keep going. The biggest killer in change management is uncertainty and ambiguity.

By repeating your messages and breaking them into smaller bit sized pieces and then keep repeating in as many different formats and forums as you can think of.

4. Make it Visual

Just as diagrams of organisational structures help us to understand the abstract nature of organisations, visualising change also helps.

Jason Little, of the Lean Change, advocates a change canvas, visualising stakeholders, the problems, timelines as journeys and anything else you can think of.

Setting up display suites, walls, sending around powerpoint decks, employing a graphic designer are all ways to make it visual.

5. Make it a two-way street

Most change management mistakes can be avoided by mastering the art of communication and engaging the right people.

So create conversation and collaboration.

Collaboration is one of the cornerstone principles of change management success.

In a report by Google in 2010, The Decisive Decade: how the acceleration of ideas will transform the workplace by 2020, showed there is an 81% correlation between collaboration and innovation.

Collaboration methodologies and techniques to obtain a high-quality solution to a given problem in a very short timeframe.

By designing collaborative sessions to bring key people together and work through the problems and opportunities will make a significant difference to your project.

What is collaboration?

“Collaboration is working with others to complete a task and achieve shared goals”

Collaboration in the organisational context is the structured methods of introspection of behaviour and communication.

These methods specifically aim to increase the success of teams as they engage in collaborative problem-solving.

Thinking through your next or current change initiative, ask and answer the following questions, in an area of you’d like to improve performance, which element is missing or which element could be bolstered:

  • In the realizing of that “created future”, the people you are leading (those who must act to realize that “created future”) must see an opportunity to fulfil their concerns
  • In the realizing of that future, the people you are leading must see an opportunity for self-expression.
  • In the realizing of that future, the people you are leading must see an opportunity for them to personally make a noteworthy contribution to the realization of that future.

6. Focus on the front-line Leaders and Supervisors

Supervisors drive an enormous amount of productivity and good will in an organisation.

Wharton University researcher Ethan Mollick conducted a study. He asked IT project managers how much value middle managers drove, and the results were startling.

“After controlling for many factors, such as the genre of the game and the size of the project, I found that individual producers account for 22.3% of the variation in company revenue. Designers, by contrast, account for just 7.4% of the variation — a relatively marginal impact. For comparison, everything else that’s part of the firm, whether it’s senior managers or strategy or marketing, accounts for just 21.3% of the variation in firm performance.”

So when driving a change, even if it’s bad news such layoff, workshop it with the front-line supervisors and leaders first. Incorporate as much of their input into the plan as possible and have them implement. Support them with training, feedback mechanisms to have questions answered and communications and coaching skills.

7. Support People with New Learning

Consider Procter & Gamble, famous for its innovative culture, was not so innovative in the early 2000s. At the time, just 15 percent of its innovations were meeting revenue and profit targets.

Frustrated with the results, P&G set about an organizational change program to recast them as an innovator. They pushed innovation responsibilities to the front line, embedding innovation and continuous improvement into everyday processes and procedures.

This required a shift in thinking about what motivates people. P&G reorganised organisational processes and coordination, ran works shops on the innovative mindset, empowered small teams and developed strong support and step-by-step process manuals.

The results were significant – this leads to a new innovation in Tide washing detergent. Within a year, building on 26 patents, it incorporated these additives into a new detergent, Tide with Acti-Lift—the first major redesign of Tide’s liquid laundry detergent in a decade.

8. Point to Progress

Whether you call it quick wins or low hanging fruit, to sustain momentum you’ll need to show progress. Too often if a project is not broken down into bite-sized chunks you’ll enter ‘the dip’. It’s a risky time when you can lose people.

Create progress by celebrating the small milestones and showing a pathway forward people can believe in.

Once you’ve demonstrated success in empowering change, shout any quick wins from the mountaintops. Nothing motivates as teams more than seeing change happening for the better; especially when they asked for help and you delivered.

If you use social tools in the organisation a great way to broadcast quick wins is through the use of Yammer and the like. Other options include email, team meetings and company town halls.

Just don’t wait! In order to leverage quick wins to drive change, your communication method must be immediate and incorporate detailed information. Opt for high levels of detail versus broad strokes here.

9. Don’t Limit Yourself to Email

In the context of organisations, it is common to think communications is a one-way street. This usually looks like sending an email to tell people about your change initiative.

There is nothing wrong with email specifically, but in the modern organisation, it can cause a lot of problems.

The key here is effective communications. As this infographic shows, knowledge workers check their email 36 times in one hour. Taking 16 minutes to refocus after each one!

10. Formalise Information Flow

The biggest breakdowns in communication often occur across the silo divides. Like a chasm, information falls into the gap and never comes out. You’ll need to build formalised structures to bridge the gap.

Shimano develops bicycles for both professionals and the average user. When they wanted to come up with a bigger and better design, the company knew better than to limit their thinking to one department, or to even limit their resource base to their employees. Instead, they gathered together research and development staff, engineers, personnel from their Japanese factories, employees, and consumers of every type, from athletes to the so-called “weekend warriors.”

This collaboration of individuals was able to offer the designers a type of feedback that they couldn’t see in a simulation and that a computer would have been unable to provide. The result? Novel derailleur designs for the new XT/XTR Saint and Shadow bikes that were to be released.

11. Model the Change Yourself as the Leader

Consider Telstra, a company that recently completed a cultural transformation. Three years ago Telstra was facing the reality that the fixed line business, once the cornerstone of their earnings, was facing imminent demise. After all, today there are more mobile phones in Australia than people. To compete in this new world of telecommunications, Telstra needed to move from an engineering and “we own the pipes” mentality to that of what they called “customer advocacy.”

When it comes to a cultural transformation, first things first. Telstra started with their leadership. CEO David Thodey carefully outlined what “customer advocacy” meant for all levels of the organisation and insisted the 300 top managers of the 40,000 strong employee base exemplify these behaviours. He revamped reward and recognition programs and initiated one-on-one coaching and development plans to help staff along the journey. To be sure, not all stuck around. But Thodey pressed onward, confident that leadership alignment would be essential to the transformation.

Telstra has made significant inroads, dramatically reducing referral to the telecommunication ombudsman by 26% and overall calls from consumers by 20%.

Leadership is critical to driving change and transformation because above all, leaders must exemplify the change in behaviours they wish to see.

Motivation is intrinsic. That is you can’t motivate someone – only they can do that. What you can do is create the environment and messages conducive to people motivating themselves.

Want to Learn More About Change Management?

I’ve created a free eBook on Fundamentals of Change Management. In this ebook, you’ll learn the fundamentals of change management, why it’s critical to achieve business outcomes, as well as tools and techniques to make change work for you. Click Here to Download

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Daniel LockDaniel Lock helps organisations unlock value and productivity through process improvement, project & change management. Find out more about him at daniellock.com.

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