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The delicate art of communicating change

4 August 2022

Sign saying "time for change" in reference to a need for businesses to communicate change

Change is inevitable, simultaneously terrifying and exciting. Communicating changes within a business is a delicate job and requires lots of planning and strategy for effective delivery. Senior Account Director Lynn discusses her process for communicating change in our latest blog.

As Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535 BC) said, change is the only constant in life. It’s all around us, happening at every second of every day, year after year. Sometimes we are aware of it, other times we’re not – the changing of the weather, the seasons, the tide, the time, our age, the cells in our bodies – we deal with it, and we adapt to it. Yet when it comes to organisational change, it’s not always as easy to go with the flow, and that often comes down to communication.

As humans we like to have control over ourselves, our situation, our surrounds and anything that alters that control is to be resisted. Or at least unless I understand why it’s happening, what it means for me and how I’m going get to the other side.

It’s these basic principles that are often missed in organisational change communication and they can make or break the successful implementation of the change impacting how a stakeholder is left feeling and the company culture that follows.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a large complex change or a simple one. The guiding approach is the same, and while it seems intuitive, it’s not always followed.

 

Plan

Preparation, preparation, preparation. The change communications plan should be developed upfront and well ahead of any change starting. It should be flexible enough to adapt to a dynamic change environment (think pandemic or company takeover) with the ability to address stakeholder feedback along the way. Segment audiences in a risk matrix with mitigation strategies and tailor messaging (in uncomplicated language), finding the formats and channels that make sense to them (it’s not one size fits all).

It’s important to remember that unless every one of your stakeholders has been in on the change planning from the start (which would rarely be the case), they are not where you are in the change process – they are blind to the journey. In the absence of context and answers, people will jump to conclusions or create their own ‘knowledge’ of what’s happening. A well-planned who-needs-to-know-what-when strategy will ensure stakeholders are engaged in the right order, in the right way and at the right time so that the cascading of change is effective.

 

Start with the why

Explain why the change is happening in terms of what each audience needs to hear, as well as what they want to hear too. While using the leader/s of the company is important for delivering effective change communication, often it’s a trusted line manager or internal influencer that can best reinforce ‘the why’ and offer a ‘safe’ space for questions to be heard and addressed. Engaged and well-briefed line managers are an essential part in delivering successful change.

 

What does it mean for me?

I now understand why the change is occurring, but what does it mean for me? In any business change, there may be stakeholders more directly impacted by the change than others. It’s important that those most affected hear about it directly first and understand how it will impact them, ensuring that the right support mechanisms are in place for individuals or teams if the outcome is less than favourable (especially in the case of redundancies or business closure).

 

How will we get there?

Providing a clear path for how the business will get from where it is to where it needs to be, and the role that stakeholders will play in that gives people a sense of control over their destiny and a choice in whether they want to go along for the ride.

 

Monitor, reflect and adapt

Incorporating formal and informal mechanisms at each stage to assess and reflect on the impact of the communications and how they’ve been received provides important inflection points and opportunity to adapt and address significant feedback to continue to move the organisation to a successful outcome from a people, process and cultural perspective.

 

Lynn Semjaniv

Senior Account Director