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How to communicate change in difficult times: 6 best practices

Let’s face it, change is rarely well received. At least, not initially. But we’re committed to making it an easier process which is why we always include change communications in our list of deliverables for your project.

We thought it was time to share the magic, so here are 6 things you should consider when communicating change.

1.    Do your homework

Taking time to prepare the messaging associated with a change programme will be the difference between success and failure. The more thinking and brainstorming you can do about what people might struggle with, the better. This (and the communications you design to mitigate these issues) will help avoid barriers popping up in the future. And this will make navigating the programme much easier. There’s more in Mike Guest’s recent blog here.

2.    Start with ‘why’

A man conducts a meeting near a flipchart and explains changes the company is going through

It’s important to outline the reasons and benefits of your change programme because this enables people to understand why they might be impacted. It also helps to set the scene for communicating the positives (given that most people will immediately look for the negative or worrying aspects of change). It’s a bit like setting the scene for a story. It allows everyone to understand a little more about what’s going to happen.

3.    Honesty is the best policy

There’s always a balance to be struck when it comes to business communications. A large change programme may involve the gradual cascade of information if some of it is shareholder-sensitive, but openness should always be your default position. Part of this approach means being truthful about positives and negatives. People will feel informed as opposed to sensing things are being withheld, which can of course lead to discomfort and suspicion.

4.    Engage a team

Because major change programmes are driven from the top down, they can often create a sense of ‘them and us’. This isn’t healthy so we recommend engaging ‘change champions’ from all areas of the organisation. These champions can act as spokespeople, conveying the message from the leadership team to their department and collating feedback from the teams to inform future communications. They may attend meetings to give them the chance to familiarise themselves with the detail in the messaging and ask questions to prepare for their role.

5.    Don’t just stick to the basics

Consider enhancing the basic communication style of briefings and Q&As with some extra sessions to help people build enthusiasm about the change programme. For example, if there will be new ways of working, run some familiarisation sessions to help people see what their future will look like. You could add in some teambuilding activities to raise the energy levels and create a positive feeling around the organisation. This would also have the benefit of breaking down any silos in the business which may impact on acceptance of change.

6.    Silence is a vacuum

Be sure to communicate even when you have nothing to say! How? By falling back on your reassurance and purpose messaging. It’s inevitable that a major change programme will ebb and flow when it comes to progress. There may be weeks where there’s very little news but remember that silence is a vacuum and people will fill the void with their own stories. Use this opportunity to go back to your core messaging and remind people of why, what, how and when. This will reassure them that they are still up to date with the change and haven’t missed something important.

Effectively communicating change is the secret to success

Ultimately, successful change communications need to focus on the people within your organisation. They are the ones who will feel the pain, but also they can impact the speed of success of your programme. Keeping them informed means inspiring them to see the good in the changes and this will create a hugely positive and proactive culture, certain to build future success.

More? Read ‘What to look for when hiring a change-programme partner‘ next. And if you’d like to speak to us about your transformation programme you can get in touch on +44 (0)1488 658686 or email [email protected].

business colleagues sitting at the desk with laptop happily looking at boss who is communicating a new project with them

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