Communicating Change: How to Create a Communication Plan

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Sections of this topic

    Part 3: For Organizations

    You have probably heard that you should have a communication strategy in place for major change. But what does that look like, who is involved, and how do you do it? Timing is also a very important factor. For example, when two major airlines merge – it is kind of hard to keep it a secret. It is all over the news and in the papers. And, to complicate things even more, the list of stakeholders spans the globe and covers everyone from internal employees to contractors, to paying customers!

    In my experience helping clients navigate large scale change, these are some of the key aspects that should be included in a communication strategy.

    1. Clarify the WIIFM for all stakeholders. You may be aware of the need for the change, and for how it benefits your organization. But at the same time, each group affected needs to know how it will impact them. What’s in it for me? This is the rallying cry of each individual, team and department. Good to think it through and be sure this part of the message is front and center.

    2. Select credible leaders to deliver the message. This should be someone who has rapport and credibility with those who receive the message. If people automatically delete emails coming from “Leader X,” that is not the person to communicate change. Similarly, don’t send out leaders to talk about the change unless they are fully informed, on board, committed to the change, and prepared thoroughly for the presentation.

    3. Make communication face to face as much as possible. It may not be as efficient as email or broadcast announcements or Twitter, but the human side of change is so powerful, it really should be communicated in person. Body language, voice inflections and facial expressions matter in getting the whole message across. Responding to questions, even heated ones, can help clear the air and keep the rumor mill in check.

    4. Create a cascade-down, feedback-up loop. Make sure all your messages are consistent, so that the initial town hall meeting is reinforced by department meetings, and by team meetings or daily huddles. The messages will get more specific as you get to the team level, but they need to remain consistent from the top all the way to the team level. As issues, questions and details are hammered out at the implementation level, a feedback loop should communicate upward about what is working and what needs to be
    adjusted or addressed.

    5. Keep communicating all the way to the end. If you communicate once and expect compliance and acceptance for the change, good luck: it probably just won’t work that way. Constant communication helps sustain and coordinate efforts to make the change sustainable. People need to know that it is still important, in the works, and that they should continue their efforts on the change.

    As you have seen in this series, communicating for effective change requires rigorous thought, strategy, and execution. You must stay focused on the change, find the right champions, be visible, and keep communicating the merits of the change every step of the way. Leaders who put in this effort can definitely reap the rewards of a well-communicated change effort.

    Managing large-scale change is usually not accomplished as a grass-roots effort. It requires leaders to pave the way and set aside budget and resources for change management and communications. Every successful change that I have worked on has had adequate resource and visibility assigned to change/management and communications. Where this visibility is minimal or sub-optimal, failure is not far to follow!