The success rate of change programs isn’t overly positive with some saying that as much as 70% of initiatives fail. Why? The truth is that organisational change, while extremely important in modern business, isn’t easy.
It can be complicated, it can be exhausting and success largely relies on a leader’s ability to communicate the benefits of the change and engage their staff.
Quite simply, as humans we are psychologically wired to resist change – if not convinced of the personal value of change, it can be difficult for employees to t feel positive about the change or be motivated to support it.
With this in mind I wanted to share with you some important lessons that any leader in charge of a change program – big or small – must consider when communicating change.
1. Be clear on what the change is and the benefits to employees
Before any announcements are made, it is imperative that you and your change agents are clear (and honest) about what the change will look like on the ground.
What is changing? Why is the status quo no longer viable? How will staff be impacted? How will the changes benefit them? Your team will be much more willing to deal with the short-term disruption and ultimately embrace the change if you can answer these questions and they can visualise and appreciate the end goal.
In your Change Communication Plan, map out your key messages ensuring the ‘What’s in it for me?’ question is carefully considered, articulated and regularly communicated.
2. Open communication lines
Managers can often get caught up in their own view of the change and its benefits and forget to consult with staff. It is very difficult to shape the way employees feel about a change if you don’t know how they feel about it in the first place. Two-way communication, where you actively seek employee feedback, is much more effective than one-way communication.
Identify key stakeholders impacted by the change early in the piece, listen to their concerns, respond to them appropriately and feed those concerns back into your key messages and address them in future communications regarding the change.
Also be mindful that face to face communication can be just as important as formal communications during change.
3. Identify and engage the office influencers
Your change initiative is much more likely to succeed if it is backed by your ‘go-to people’ or internal influencers. Just note, these may not necessarily be your high-level managers, these are people at all levels of the business but have a natural influence and leadership qualities – they are vocal in their opinions and respected.
Engage these people, convince them of the benefits and they will be your voice on the ground, rallying the troops and helping your staff to overcome negative emotions about the change.
4. Use a number of channels to reach your audience
Remember to use a range of communication channels (not just email) to ensure you reach everyone affected by the change. Everyone consumes information differently and by using various channels you increase the likelihood that your messages are being heard.
Also, don’t assume that what you are communicating is being absorbed and understood on every occasion. It can take a few times to get your message across and the added stress of change can mean employees minds can go elsewhere during announcements. Be sure to repeat and reinforce your key messages.
5. Communicate consistently but don’t overwhelm
While it is important to keep your staff informed about the changes occurring, bear in mind too much information can be overwhelming and can result in change fatigue. If you are sensing that employees are tuning out, try to reduce the noise and focus on the key channels.
6. Demonstrate the value – celebrate milestones and wins.
Lastly, we started out by communicating what the benefits would be for employees so when those benefits start materialise … let’s celebrate them! This will reinforce the positives of the change, maintain and build trust, and show there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Points for celebrations can be simple and should be tailored to your change. For example, reaching 30 days post office move, or hitting 50 new forms processed in the new system. The celebrations themselves need to be appropriate for your change. This could mean a small morning tea with your team, an email congratulating employees, or a formal out of hours event.
Ultimately, while change can be uncomfortable for managers and employees, effective communication is critical in engaging staff and helping them embrace the change. By applying some of the lessons above your change program will certainly have a greater chance of succeeding.