Gretchen Nadasky shares her expertise in change management, knowledge management and information management trends, tools and strategies.
Change management itself has several aspects and tasks, however, communication is one of the most important. Understanding the type of change, applying the right strategy and leveraging appropriate dissemination tools communicate change in a way that will resonate, inspire and decrease friction to bring about the desired outcomes.
For any change initiative to succeed, a well-planned communications strategy is a mandate.
Communications strategies that are designed with sensitivity to the situation, are clear about the objectives for the change, deliver messages that motivate the audience through the most appropriate available channels provide the best results. The power of the communication strategy lies in its ability to speak to stakeholders in a way that empowers positive action and reduces friction.
The first step to creating an effective communications strategy is to identify the conditions surrounding the need for change. Change may be required under a variety of circumstances. It is often said that the only constant in life is change - but conscious organizational change demands new behaviors. Before asking people to change their ways it’s crucial to understand what the change will mean to the people whom are being asked to make the effort. There are three key types of impacts from change that are important to consider before crafting communications strategies:
- The Perks Scenario
- The Turn the Ship Scenario
- The Starting from Scratch Scenario
The Perks Scenario
The Perks Scenario is when the organization decides to provide a benefit or bonus to the organization – it is a positive change. Some examples of the Perks Scenario is a company announcing they are providing employees with extra days off to do volunteer work or that is expanding its family leave policy. The reason that an organization provides these benefits or perks is that it wishes to increase loyalty or attract new employees, or maybe even to demonstrate to external partners corporate responsibility and community engagement. Just because the reason for the change is positive it is still important to communicate strategically. For the Perks Scenario, develop aspirational communications that will lead stakeholders to feel a sense of good will and generosity flowing from the organization.
The Turn the Ship Scenario
The Turn the Ship Scenario comes about when things are not going particularly well and require adjustment to either improve a result or prevent disaster. In the Turn the Ship Scenario people are being asked to change the way they do their jobs or address workflow. Most individuals, especially in the context of work, struggle with adjustments to their daily routine and may resist change. Resistance causes friction that undermines the urgency and progress toward improvement or disaster prevention. The Turn the Ship scenario demands assertive communication that will make people understand the importance of their participation in reaching the organizations goals.
The Starting from Scratch Scenario
The Starting from Scratch Scenario arises when a brand new technology, product, process or even organization is being created. In this situation, the change is meant to bring about positive gains, growth or increased profits. At the beginning of a new initiative, expectations for results can be high, but anxiety may also increase as new demands are placed on people to navigate an unfamiliar situation. In this case, the focus of communications should be on providing opportunities for assistance to smooth the transition. The intention of the messaging in the Starting from Scratch Scenario is to provide assurance and confidence.
Once the scenario has been recognized apply the best approach.
- The Perks Scenario = Aspirational Approach
- The Turn the Ship Scenario = Assertive Approach
- The Starting from Scratch Scenario = Assuring Approach
According to Doug Hattaway and Tess Hart in their article, Aspiration: A Tool for Transformational Change ‘the power of aspirational communication, aims to motivate people to support causes by appealing to the hopes and values that give meaning to their lives’. A change that provides benefit should be value-based and inspire people to think big and positively about the organization since aspirations motivate behavior. Communications in the Perks Scenario focus on the positive things coming in the future. Tactically, these communications should be attractively designed and disseminated through easily accessed channels. Newsletters, webcasts and posters are all great tools.
On the other hand, in the Turn the Ship Scenario communications should be more directive and forceful with an assertive voice that expresses the urgency of the change to the existing status quo. Rather than focusing attention on the future, assertive communications bring the attention to the work at hand and the need to support the change even if it results in momentary discomfort. Assertive communications must be repeated frequently and placed directly in front of the audience so there is little possibility of it being ignored resulting in a work-around instead of a turn-around. Multiple channels, leveraging digital, in-person and physical contact points can support a Turn the Ship change including email, internal memos, focus groups and fact sheets. A communications program can be developed that is staggered so the communications are shared and re-enforced over time.
A change that introduces something brand new needs to be handled sensitively and delicately.
Communication in the Starting from Scratch Scenario should be focused on assuring people that they will be helped through the major transition and have a place to turn for assistance. The focus should contrast the les- than-desirable past with the more beneficial future that the new initiative will provide. The most effective communications in this scenario provide concrete information to guide people through the unfamiliar landscape with offerings like fact sheets, guidelines, workshops, informal meetings like town halls or brown bag lunches. These communications can start very early in the process to limit the surprise factor and can be completed once the new initiative has taken hold throughout the enterprise.