It’s an expected part of the modern workplace: organizations and their employees are constantly in a state of change—from mergers/acquisitions or new technologies to simpler initiatives, such as an updated approach to onboarding new hires. Even though change is expected; however, it doesn’t make it easy.
With many moving pieces to track during a change, leaders, initiative owners and communicators like to focus on getting materials out and checking items off their to-do lists—often missing the most important question of all: How effective is the internal change communication strategy?
Why measure change communication?
Just because a message was sent, doesn’t mean employees have seen and understood it. Measurement can help you understand if employees:
- Are paying attention to communication
- Understand what’s happening and what it means to them
- Know what they need to do
- See barriers to the change
The best change communication plans adapt as change initiatives roll out. Gathering feedback and assessing the effectiveness of communication will help you make informed decisions about your plan. And there’s research that says when you measure during a change, it has a positive impact on the way employees embrace it.
How is change communication measured?
Here are five practical ways to measure the effectiveness of your change communication. Since technology changes are so common across organizations, I’ll use technology-related initiatives to demonstrate how to apply each strategy.
1. Assess progress against objectives
While this strategy may sound obvious, project teams often forget to go back to the beginning when they’re embroiled in a big change. Start by reviewing your initiative and communication objectives—what you set out to achieve. Then determine how the change is progressing and what still needs to be done. Turn your review into a dashboard of key metrics to be shared with the project team (and other stakeholders), so the team can track progress and determine next steps.
Example: When we helped a software company launch a new performance management tool, we set a clear goal: 90% of employees using the new tool by the end of the year. By the middle of Q2, however, only 50% of employees were participating. With mid-year reviews quickly approaching, we had the perfect opportunity to ramp up communication, including new tactics.
2. Review metrics and data
It’s helpful to think about tracking and gathering data on three levels:
- Original research. Surveys are a great diagnostic (Where are we having problems?), while focus groups dig into the reasons behind employees’ perceptions.
- E-metrics. Digital communication tools generate useful data that demonstrate how employees are using communication channels. For example, do they read the intranet article or attend the town hall?
- Employee behaviors. Most change is about doing something differently, so it’s important to track those new behaviors. Do employees enroll in the new benefits program? Do they use the new finance system?
Example: We worked with a real estate company that was transitioning to a new CEO, implementing a new business strategy and launching a campaign to focus on culture—all at the same time. To prepare for the upcoming ramp up of communication, we assessed current channels. We ran reports and reviewed metrics for newsletters, emails and the intranet, and conducted focus groups to dig deeper into the data. Our findings indicated the newsletter and intranet were effective, but employees needed to hear more from leaders. Using this data, we launched a communication campaign that included amplifying the presence of leaders and helping them understand their communication role with the three big initiatives.
3. Rely on managers
When employees have questions or concerns, their managers’ desks are typically the first stop. Work with a small group of managers to compile a list of the common questions they anticipate receiving about the change. Use their input to create supporting materials for all managers, such as Frequently Asked Questions or how-to guides.
Example: When launching new technologies, organizations often turn to people managers—providing them with talking points. During the launch of a new onboarding system we turned that idea on its head and made it interactive! We created a forum for managers (a discussion thread) where they shared questions from their employees and the change team provided real-time answers. Key questions and answers were then tracked and categorized in an FAQ document.
4. Conduct convenience research
This strategy is all about assessing knowledge. While surveys and focus groups are meant to be accurate representations of a population, this form of research is designed to take advantage of a captive audience. For example, ending a meeting with a short survey. Your target audience is in the room (or on the Zoom call), so why not ask a few questions? It’s very convenient.
Example: It’s common to schedule a training session when launching a new technology. Following the session, it feels natural to move on since everyone is an expert now—right? After training on a new finance system, we asked participants to complete a quick five-question knowledge assessment. The data pointed to a problem with a specific module in the training, so we created a quick how-to video to help employees understand what to do.
5. Gather feedback
Once a change is rolled out and considered complete, organizations typically move on to the next thing. Not so fast. Taking a moment to gather feedback at the end of a change initiative will help you understand if the change is truly sticking and if there are lessons for next time.
Example: During the pandemic, we worked with a manufacturing company to quickly develop a communication program designed to help plant employees understand what was happening, new safety protocols and what they needed to do. Six weeks after rolling out the program, we ran a survey across all manufacturing sites to gauge the effectiveness of our efforts. The results showed that one site preferred verbal updates from leaders, while other sites preferred written materials, such as flyers. We adapted our communication program to include more flexibility to use preferred channel(s) at each site. Employee feedback helped us refine the program ensuring employees didn’t miss critical safety updates.
Remember, delivering communication materials during a big change is just one step in the communication process. Touchpoints and change milestones along the way are perfect opportunities to stop, assess and pivot as necessary. It’s not about checking the box and getting it done. It’s about focusing on impacted employees and the objectives of the change. Is communication making a difference?