Firstly – be honest. Employees need to know the whole story – warts and all. Too often the CxO and senior managers are concerned that staff will be upset by the forthcoming change and therefore avoid telling the whole truth. If it is perceived that employees are going to be upset by the change announcement, the chances are they certainly will be when the change comes about. So, it is important to tell them about the change as soon as possible so that they have time to prepare – and you have time to prepare them.
Don’t underestimate the time it will take to identify where the resistance to change may come from, put in place a plan to overcome it, execute the plan, continually assess its effectiveness and make changes as required.
Therefore the sooner you understand the reaction of employees to the change, the sooner you can respond accordingly.
You will only know the ‘real’ response if you are open and honest and provide employees with the whole picture.
Managers need to put themselves in the firing line – be prepared to answer the hard questions and to be transparent.
Transparency and consistency will be key if you want to stop the rumour mill. If employees feel that they are only being told half a story they will make the other half up themselves, making your job even harder.
You don’t want to have to spend the majority of your time trying to dispel rumours that only came about because you did not communicate openly.
Everyone Needs to Be on the Same Page
It is imperative that time is taken to prepare the message and to make sure that everyone who is required to deliver the message is able to tell the same story. Everyone needs to be on the same page. Inconsistency will fuel a fire that is waiting to happen.
Time needs to be taken to prepare the executive, managers, and sponsors who will be required to deliver the message. They need to understand the reason for the change and be champions of the change. They may need coaching and mentoring to (a) help them overcome any resistance to the change they may have and (b) equip them with the skills and capability to deliver the message effectively.
All communication channels need to carry the same story – where are we going? – why are we doing this? – how does this align with our organisational strategy? – when are we doing it? – how are we doing it? – and most importantly – what’s in it for me (WIIFM)?
It is a good idea to test the message with a sample group of the target audience to determine if the message is clear, concise and complete. Things you may assume obvious may not be so to all employees so you need to remove the assumptions.
The sample group should help identify the questions that employees will be asking. What you assume people need to know may not be the case. I remember working in an organisation, some years ago, that was undertaking a relocation of a department to another part of the city. Management assumed that staff wanted to know about recompense for additional travel, whether there would be parking available, how accessible the new location was by public transport etc. But this wasn’t what was causing concern. It turned out that the biggest question staff wanted to know was whether the kitchen would be equipped with a microwave oven! This was because another department, relocated earlier, had not initially been provisioned with a microwave oven which they had previously had access to.
Don’t assume employees won’t sweat the small stuff. They will! Your sample group can help identify what this may be.
Throughout the period of communications you need to be checking its effectiveness. You need to regularly check understanding of the message. Don’t assume that because no-one has asked a question that the message has been understood. Silence does not mean that all is good!
There are various ways to check the effectiveness of the communications and it will be the change agent’s job to determine which are the most appropriate for the organisation.
Employees can be surveyed to determine if they understand the change.
At a recent client engagement I created and distributed the communications regarding a forthcoming change. Customers using a particular application were required to change the way in which they submitted service and support requests. The customers were distributed across the country so I followed up the communication by randomly picking names from the email distribution list and telephoning them to determine if they had read the communications and whether they had any concerns, questions etc.
This helped me understand whether the communications was having the desired result and to make any changes as required.
Other methods to determine communication effectiveness include focus groups, observation, monitoring collaboration channels, monitoring traffic on web pages where information about the change resides, monitoring feedback channels etc.
It is more likely that if you are not getting feedback or questions, the change has not been understood or is being resisted as opposed to the opposite.
Organisation change management models such as ADKAR can be used to determine if communications are having the desired results during organisational change. ADKAR can tell you whether employees are Aware of the need to change; have a Desire to participate and support; have Knowledge of the change and what it looks like; feel they have the Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis; and have the Reinforcement to keep the change in place. ADKAR is used for much more than just checking communication effectiveness so is an ideal tool to have in your organisational change management toolbox.
Answer the Questions
It is important to answer all the questions received from employees. In the client engagement I mentioned earlier, any questions I received about the change were collated and the answers were distributed in future communications. Each communication had a FAQ section. The chances are that if one person asks a question about the change, there are a myriad of others wondering the same thing but not prepared to ask.
Collect all questions asked and provide a FAQ either in distributed communications, via collaboration tools and/or on the intranet.
Strike a Balance
Communications should be balanced. They need to be frequent enough to help employees with their transition and addressing their concerns and questions but not overly frequent to the point that people stop paying attention.
Also give due consideration to the communications channels. If employees hate SharePoint, don’t use that to deliver your message despite it being the corporate collaboration tool!
Note: I have nothing against SharePoint!
Use a variety of channels but ensure they are ones that employees will access. Just like communication content effectiveness should be checked so should the effectiveness of the communication channels.
Monitor the number of emails that are opened. Monitor the number of click-throughs to the web site. Monitor the number of downloads regarding the change from the intranet. Monitor the number of impacted employees attending information sessions. All of these, and more, can help you determine which communication channels are having the greatest impact so you can give them more focus. There may be communication channels that you stop using as they are having the least impact. But you won’t know unless you monitor it. As with anything else, the adage ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’ also applies to change communications.
Your organisational change communications need to be honest and transparent. The message, and the deliverers of the message, need to be carefully prepared. There needs to be one story and only one story. Test the message and regularly check the effectiveness of the communications. Answer all the questions being asked and make the questions and answers accessible by all impacted employees. Ensure that your communication channels are appropriate for the change in hand and will be accessed by impacted employees.
Finally, be prepared to change course. If it’s not working, stop and make the required adjustments to get back on track.