As organizations evolve and grow, change is inevitable. But it’s the pace of change in today’s business climate that generates a flow of communication that can leave employees feeling overwhelmed and more apt to overlook important details, even when the change is big.
To plan impactful change communication that breaks through—such as a new CEO, new business strategy, rebranding or restructuring—you need to think big—summer blockbuster big!
Why? Since the 1977 release of “Jaws,” arguably the first summer blockbuster, Hollywood has figured out a formula to ensure big-budget films get lots of attention and sell tickets.
Here are five ideas inspired by the world of cinema to help you develop a change communication strategy that creates buzz and messages that stick:
1. Let employees know change is coming
Heavy promotion is one major characteristic of the summer blockbuster.
Studio creatives release trailers—an audience’s first look at a film—to ignite interest in the story, the stars and, of course, the action. Trailers are artfully crafted to set the film’s tone, but they also play a practical role: to let audiences know when and where the movie will be released.
Similarly, you can craft compelling change communication that sets expectations. Develop messaging and visuals that provide high-level detail so employees understand what is changing and when.
Plan to roll out more details as the change date approaches. Focus on what employees need to do differently. Then, when the change happens, you’ll have receptive groups ready to act.
Here's an example:
When a global pharmaceutical company prepared to launch its new brand, the project team organized an all-hands simulcast and created teasers with simple visuals and copy as part of the invitation and reminders.
Messages such as “Join us to usher in a new era”—shared on digital signs, intranet banner ads and a CEO message—piqued curiosity and encouraged employees to attend coordinated watch parties. Shortly after, the team released new templates, guidelines and training, and shared expectations around the transition.
2. Know your audience
Blockbuster movie promoters are charged with understanding their audience demographics and tailoring marketing to engage them. That’s why viewers of Disney’s live action “Little Mermaid” saw the movie trailer for “Barbie,” not “Oppenheimer.”
When you understand your audience, you can develop effective change communication strategies based on the relevance and impact of the change.
Start by taking inventory of your stakeholder groups. Then, for each group, ask:
- How much does the change impact them?
- What do they need from communication? Do they need deep knowledge to understand and answer questions? Or do they just need to be aware?
Armed with this segmentation, you’ll be able to prepare and implement your change communication plan like a seasoned blockbuster movie promoter.
Here’s an example:
Communicators at an international bank understood the implications when it needed to relocate segments of its growing population out of its prestigious big city headquarters. After identifying and segmenting stakeholders based on the relocation impact, the team built a better understanding of their needs and a more tailored approach to change communication.
Across the organization, the team focused on creating awareness about the change and why it would drive the bank’s success. For impacted employees, however, change communication strategies centered on more relevant and useful tactics, such as a how-to-prepare toolkit, a guide on what to expect in the new space and surrounding area, and an interactive forum where employees could ask questions and get answers.
3. Leverage the celebrity and influence of your leaders
A-listers like Margot Robbie and Emily Blunt lend their star power to influence moviegoers and drive box office success. Top notch directors like Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan can bring loyal fans out in droves to enjoy their master storytelling skills.
You can leverage the star power of your organization’s A-listers—respected leaders and other influencers—to champion change. With communication ranging from simple (a quick promo during the next town hall) to more in-depth (interview or podcast), your leaders can instill confidence, inspire acceptance and drive action.
Here’s an example:
When a leading technology company wanted to change how meetings were managed (that is, fewer, more impactful meetings), the communication team engaged leaders to influence employees’ perceptions and behaviors.
The team developed tools to help leaders model desired behaviors and a cadence of tactics advocating for change. Each week, a different leader’s bitmoji delivered compelling statistics about wasted time and budgets, as well as leading practices and tips to address meeting management pain points.
4. Craft a compelling story that creates emotional connections
A summer blockbuster doesn’t just fill the screen with big visuals and sound, employ the best cast and crew, and voilà, bring in the big bucks. Under all that star power and bedazzled exterior, a story must exist.
Relatable characters in classic conflict situations—person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. self, etc.—bring viewers into the narrative and get them invested in the resolution.
Using classic storytelling techniques, you can engage employees by weaving a narrative that resonates on an emotional level, evoking understanding and acceptance of the change journey.
To build your change story, dig into the details. Learn the who, what, when and where, of course—but immerse yourself in the why.
- Why the change?
- Why now?
- Why will it benefit employees?
- Why is it good for the organization?
Here’s an example:
When a chemical supply company acquired a lab product provider with a much larger employee base, the communication team knew the change story would need to be the foundation for all messaging.
The team worked in lockstep with leaders and change workstreams to craft the story that would kick start senior leaders’ presentations during a world tour. The story helped employees understand what was changing, why and how the future of the new company would look.
5. Make it memorable with out-of-the-box, unexpected tactics
Summer blockbusters often set the tone for innovation in film. Tech advancements like CGI in “Jurassic Park” and AI that de-aged Indiana Jones in the latest installment of that series help to reshape the cinematic landscape. Occasionally, a surprising absence of tech can make for memorable film moments, too. (Think Nolan’s recreation of the atom bomb test without CGI, or Tom Cruise actually hanging off the plane in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.”)
When you need to create memorable change communication, consider tactics that disrupt “normal” communication in your organization.
If employees are used to digital channels, go old school with print. A poster or desk drop will stand out from the usual email push and can also act as a reference tool and reminder.
Here’s an example:
A manufacturing company was preparing for a plant inspection by regulators from its largest and potentially most lucrative market. Leaders needed employees to be meticulous about gowning and clean-room protocols in addition to other day-to-day practices.
The communication team created a set of print pieces to grab the attention of employees who worked on the plant floor. Posters, table tents and unexpected life-size character cutouts—that included humorous headlines and reminders—helped the communication stand out from the ordinary and left a lasting impression.
Pro tip: Psychologists say humor can be a good way to deal with stressful situations. Comic relief is a cinematic plot device used to lighten the mood and give viewers a break during a serious scene. That comedy connects with the audience, increasing their enjoyment and empathy.
That’s a wrap
Employees are busy, so getting them to pay attention during times of change takes planning and effort. Why not take a cue from some of the world’s most talented creators of content?
By setting expectations about a change, understanding your audience, crafting a compelling narrative, leveraging influencers and making tactics memorable, you can create can’t-miss communication that will make your organization’s change the talk of the town.