Communicating Change

by Rus Slater

Change communications strategy

As with most things in business, we need to start with our change vision and objectives. Next, we need to establish the communications strategy to support that vision, and then we can work out the specific tactics.

The mission and vision are inextricably linked to the overall change goal. Senior management must articulate the change vision clearly. Once we have the change vision and objectives, it should be relatively straightforward to establish communications that express that change vision clearly. The next step is the communications strategy.

The component parts of a normal communications strategy are as follows:

  • Purpose – what is the objective of our communication?
  • Message – what do we need to say and how will we say it?
  • Audience – who is getting our message and how can we tailor our message to that audience?
  • Image – how should we be viewed by the audience that receives our message?
  • Channel – how should we deliver this message? By what medium or mix of media?
  • Timing – when do we communicate?

But you will note that this is all about transmission. Unless you take care, it can therefore fall straight into the ‘trap’ Number 4 of the Worst change practices: there is no employee ‘voice’. For an effective change programme, our communications strategy needs to incorporate the capacity to encourage and listen to the people who will most directly affect our change and be affected by it.

Components of a change communications strategy

A communications strategy for a change programme will need to have the following components:

  • Purpose

What is the objective of each way of our two-way communication? Which parts are we ‘telling’, what vision are we ‘selling’, what tactics do we want to ‘share’ and what level of ‘empowerment’ do we want to encourage?

  • Message

What do we need to say and how will we say it? What do we want to hear back and how will we ‘listen’? We need to stand in the shoes of the recipient and think about the myriad questions that will be running through their minds as we are trying to communicate with them. Once the change plan is up and running, we must make sure the messages we send include the progress to date.

  • Audience

Who is getting our message and how can we tailor our message to that audience? Do we need to ‘segment’ our audience (for example, head office and field staff, home country and regional staff)?

Tips

Different audiences need different messages. This means different messages for different departments/sections and different levels/grades.

The message must be relevant to the future of specific local work areas. So, for example, someone needs to talk about relevant stuff to forklift truck drivers in the goods inward area. This will be a different message to the one that will be of relevance to the Accounts Department.

Someone needs to address the concerns that might be present and also outline some benefits for each specific audience. Who better than the supervisors and team leaders of the specific work areas? This is where the choice of channels of communication comes in. The supervisors and team leaders are an incredibly powerful channel.

  • Image

What impression do we want our audience to have of us? Do we want to be seen as having a clear vision and an open mind about tactics or do we want to appear to have all the answers ourselves?

  • Channel

How should we deliver these messages? Through whom? By what medium or mix of media? Will we use different media for segmentation or solely for saturation?

  • Timing

When do we start communicating with the people who may/will be affected by the changes we are planning?

As you can see, a change communications strategy is more complex than a normal communication strategy, as it must take into account the need for people to feel and actually be involved.