Communicating Change

by Rus Slater

Change fails!

‘Most change projects fail’ is received wisdom throughout the business world. There is sufficient truth in this for it to be noticeable that when a ‘change project’ does succeed, it usually gets written up as a case study in a business journal or a training programme.

If we accept that most change projects fail, we clearly need to examine, analyse, interpret and understand ‘why’ they fail, and also what we actually mean by ‘fail’.

The operation was a success, but the patient died!

When people say that most change projects fail, what they usually mean is that the change failed to produce the ‘expected business benefits’. Often, the minutiae of the project were ‘successful’, but the change still failed actually to produce the benefits expected. For example, the technical implementation of a large new computer system was on time, on budget and worked bug-free on launch. However, the CEO expected the introduction of the system to save the organisation £1.3 million in year one and it didn’t; it only reduced operating cost by £875,000 (and probably cost about £1.8 million to introduce).

Therefore, it ‘failed’.

Why does change so often fail?

Continuing with this example, what has the CEO’s perception of failure to do with the subject matter of Communicating Change? Well, when we analyse the reason for this failure, it may be that the actual maths was wrong in the first place.

Or it may be that the CEO had an expectation that they didn’t clearly communicate to the rest of the team... Or perhaps the team realised that the CEO’s expectation wasn’t realistic, but failed to communicate that back to the CEO.

Or maybe the maths was right and the CEO’s expectations were right, but the way the message was conveyed and/or the way people’s reaction to the message was received and managed was ineffective... Hence, people didn’t help it to work... so it failed.

So communication is absolutely crucial to effective change.

By establishing a separate change communication strategy in support of the organisation’s business strategy, leaders will align employees with it. By putting communication up front, leaders can ensure that their strategic plan is based on the realities learned from the collective experience of the organisation’s most important employees – those who reach its customers directly.

Karen Greenbaum 2002

The quotation above isn’t simply one of those ‘motivational’ types of saying; it is based on some solid research (Best and Worst change practices).