At the heart of any change programme are the people impacted by the change who need to accept and adopt new ways of working. If these people have not been engaged with the business rationale for the change and communicated with effectively throughout the lifecycle of the programme, then the change programme may fail because of the resistance by staff to the change presented to them.
At the beginning of a change programme, it can be, at times, difficult perhaps impossible to give a clear description of what the change will look like. This can result in a hesitation to deliver any communications at all after the initial big announcement, which can lead to the circulation of rumours and this may impact the integrity of the change programme before it has even had the chance to get off the ground.
So it is important to not wait until the full information is available, as you must build an awareness of the need for change.
Here we will explore some of the key considerations for developing a communication strategy within your change programme.
Why is the organisation making the change?
Being able to articulate the reasons for the change and the benefits it will bring are key foundations for your communication strategy. People are likely to become interested when they understand what the change involves and from that they can start to understand what’s in it for them and how it impacts their job role.
For example, is the change related to a merger of organisations which means a business process alignment is required to ensure the organisation can operate effectively? Or has there been a change in member/donor expectations and the organisation needs to adapt to their changing needs or risk a decline in member/donor retention? Equally important is being able to link the change to the business strategy, which makes it easier for stakeholders to see and understand the change programme in the wider context of organisational business objectives.
Who are we communicating with?
Stakeholder identification is the next step so that you understand which audiences – both internal and external – that need to be communicated with and the type of information they need to receive given their role in the change and the impact it may have on them. By segmenting the audiences in this way, messages can be better targeted making the communications more personalised and improving the understanding of the messages to be relayed.
For example, a board of trustees will need to receive a different level of information and in a different tone to those who are the recipients of the greatest level of change.
In the second part of this article, we’ll look at setting objectives, developing key messages and identifying how they’ll be delivered.
What are the communication objectives?
Now that you have identified your audiences, start to think about what you want each of these audiences to know and do as a result of the change: what specific actions are they required to undertake, for example, set up a new online member account? Or perhaps for some of the audiences, the change does not directly impact them, so being informed that the change is taking place is enough.
Once it is clear what you want your audiences to know and do, you can then start to define your communication objectives, which should be linked to the milestones of the change programme plan.
What are your key messages?
Consistency of message about the change – hearing the same messages from multiple sources is essential so that audiences gain confidence in the delivery of change and how it will impact them. Confusing or mixed messaging could increase levels of anxiousness amongst those affected by the change, risk losing faith in senior leaders to do the right thing, and may impact the adoption of the change.
Developing key messages that all those communicating the change can use – from the CEO through to the project sponsor and line managers will ensure agreement in the message delivery and reduce the potential for misunderstanding.
Being transparent and creating trust are important objectives to consider when devising the key messages. Letting audiences know what won’t be changing as well as what will change will help to provide reassurance.
How will the messages be delivered and who will deliver them?
For many of us, delivering communications face to face is not possible right now, so you need to be creative and think of as many channels as possible to relay your messages. During the pandemic, what effective communication channels have you identified for your organisation? Consider utilising your recent experience to help you in your current change programme.
Remember that different communication channels will be more appropriate for some audiences than others. You will likely have stakeholders with different needs and preferences for receiving and processing communications, for example digital versus verbal, so the same messages need to be delivered across as many different channels as possible to achieve the maximum engagement.
As well as mass communication channel, for example, an update from a CEO in a staff magazine, it is important to have communications delivered at a local level or in a smaller setting, for example in a briefing from a department head or line manager in a team meeting.
The latter is a good example of a two-way communication method – other examples include workshops and surveys – all of which have the big advantage of allowing the people affected by change to participate more fully in a discussion about the change. Having the opportunity to give opinions and raise questions or concerns will help to increase the confidence in the change programme by stakeholders and also the likelihood of the adoption of the change.