Communications is the key to the success of any organizational transformation or change.
This week I was interviewed as a communications expert to be part of a university’s upcoming interactive textbook on business.
Students will read a variety of case studies, answer a quiz about how they would theoretically handle the described situations and then watch a video from an expert who gives their take on what the realities are.
I’ll keep you posted when the book comes out . Until then, here’s a sneak peek on how I explained the importance of a putting an input-gathering communications and messaging plan in place before any organizational change is announced or implemented.
Change communication is a whole area of study in of itself. If you don’t have time for that, here are some quick and important considerations to bear in mind!
1. The communications plan is the foundation of any change.
If the foundation isn’t laid properly, the whole change campaign will collapse. This results in extra, unplanned and not-budgeted time and resources that will have to be dumped into the change project – to try to rebuild the foundation. The change outcomes will likely never be as strong as they could have if the plan had been executied right the first time.
And yet, communications strategies are too often overlooked. Executives may think successful change rests on the simple merits of the change itself. But that’s wrong. Information alone is not enough to convince and persuade employees that the change is in their best interest.
2. The number one thing is to allocate the proper time.
Your “transformation lag,” as some businesses call it, is at least an 18-month process before the “official announcement.” The trouble occurs when the change announcement is made first and then the buy-in is attempted. Successful change happens in the opposite order.
3. Developing the proper messages around your change idea is critical.
This should never be done in a vacuum. The person or small confidential team that develops the change idea – MUST spend time writing out the benefits and positive reasons behind this effort – and prepare for EVERY possible objection AND then craft positive responses to them.
But that’s not enough – the messages must be tested…
4. So, identifying stakeholders – in tiers – is next and this requires the most delicacy and protocol.
You’re essentially building a political outreach campaign. What’s the number that you need to win? Different than elections, you’re going to strive for more than 51 percent for your victory. You want to get as many people on board – before you make the official announcement. This all must be done in the proper order. Think of concentric circles. Protocol is key here. You must be careful NOT to offend anyone in this process.
Your first tier of stakeholders is what we call in campaigning, the “Influencers.” Like the name implies, they have to have a lot of clout and influence among identified next tier stakeholder groups.
Depending on the type of change – you can also consider influencers who are “Third party advocates.” Here, think of a major vendor or client or board member who may not be part of your organization ,per se, but who is respected, well-known and influential anyway.
Test your messages with this group and gather intel and responses from them. Incorporate their feedback.
5. Stakeholder fan out.
Next come the other tiers as dictated by their levels of influence and respect, size, etc. You’re doing all this in the “message testing” phase –and while you’re doing that, you’re gathering their input, showing them you value them, and re-calibrating your message if you need to. And! getting all important pre-roll-out buy–in!
The goal here is that by the time you roll out whatever your change is, you have critical mass of stakeholder buy-in – you have vetted your message and benefits, objections properly – that you will have success.
6. Campaign roll-out rewards.
Your change campaign doesn’t end there – you can’t make the announcement and walk away. You should also have a calendar of milestone small reward moments built in. Incentives to encourage implementation. This is the test drive area.
7. Over time, you can institutionalize the change.
Be ready with the frame work for writing the change into manuals, handbooks, whatever.. but this comes after success in the previous steps.
For Change Communications to be successful, you must devise a two-way street. Getting stakeholder buy-in on message and benefits early, BEFORE announcement and implementation may seem like a lot of work, but it will dramatically increase your rate of success – and that saves time and money!
I’m so grateful that you are reading my essays. I write inspirationally about better communications, business and life empowerment. If you would like to read regularly, please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and feel free to also connect at LinkedIn, via Twitter, Facebook and at GinaLondon.com
Copyright Gina London 2015. All Rights Reserved.