What is it about change communication that causes good communicators to open the information hose and lose sight of a basic tenet of internal communication: Know your audience?

In, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, Jonah Berger provides an explanation: “Too often, as potential change agents we focus on ourselves. We center on the outcome we’re looking for or the change we’re hoping to see. We’re so blinded by the belief that we’re right that we assume if we just provide more information, facts or reasons, people will capitulate.”

As communicators, our job is to help colleagues take an employee-centric view and ask a key question: What will get in the way of an employee adopting this change? By understanding the obstacles, we can design communication that encourages employees to adopt new ways of working.

Here are two typical scenarios with advice about how to apply employee-centric thinking to address the challenges:

Scenario 1. Your company is implementing a new online performance management system. It’s your job to help employees understand the new system and use it. What would get in the way of those two goals? Perhaps managers don’t use the system because they think, “It’s a waste of time.” 

In this case, we need a communication solution that will change managers’ minds. One technique: facilitate a workshop with people managers to help them understand how employees value feedback and how to use the system to facilitate effective conversations.

Scenario 2. Your IT organization will replace an existing web-based meeting tool with a more reliable platform. Now imagine executive assistants who host critical meetings for senior leaders in a division. Performance and reliability are key—meetings have to go off without a hitch; facts and benefits won’t convince them to make the switch. 

Communication has to build trust with the new tool. To get there, I recommend holding demonstration events for employees—including those reluctant executive assistants—that allows them to try the new platform in real time. 

What do these situations have in common? The communication tactic is focused on breaking down barriers rather than telling employees how to feel or what to do. The strategy is simple: involve, don’t tell. 

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