Your organization has been working hard on a new initiative and you are the expert communicator who will help employees understand the change and what to do differently. Lucky you! You work in an organization that recognizes the value of a strong change communication plan.
It’s the perfect time to think about your role. Sure, you’ll develop an amazing communication plan and draft compelling content. But how can you elevate your role so you’re recognized as a strategic advisor? Be ready to wear these five hats—skills that will help you and your organization’s change effort break through.
Just like a journalist seeking a scoop, you need to learn as much as you can about the change.
Start by reading about the initiative, then attend meetings and ask lots of questions: Why is this change happening? What is the timing? What are key milestones? What exactly is changing? How will employees experience the change? How will success be measured? (Pro tip: You may need to sprinkle in some one-on-one interviews to get all your questions answered.)
All the information you gather will support the development of your change communication plan and ensure your organization’s communication efforts meet the needs of employees.
For example, once you understand change impacts, you can segment audiences based on how they will be impacted by the change—what each group will need to do differently. This vital information will help you set clear communication objectives for each audience.
The human brain finds stories compelling. They are one of the key ways we learn. It’s why you’ll find stories everywhere: in books, television, movies, art, advertising, pop culture and business.
And just like the outside world, employees crave stories, too, especially during times of change when they feel uneasy about the future. Their reflexes kick in. They want to know what is happening, when— and most importantly — what the change means for them. To help, create an emotional connection to the change: a story. You, the communicator, are the modern-day storyteller.
The best way to bring emotion? Think of the most well-known story arc:
- Boy meets girl
- Boy and girl are happy
- Boy and girl face problem and split up
- Boy and girl overcome conflict and get back together
- Boy and girl are happier than before
How might this look when communicating change? Here’s an example with a new business strategy:
- Our company was founded and built upon an important mission.
- We delivered a solution and helped to solve an unmet need.
- We grew too fast—growth that is not sustainable.
- We have a plan for the future that will set us up for long-term success.
- Our customers win and we win.
Once you have crafted your change story, continue being a storyteller when bringing the change to life. Instead of focusing on facts and figures, find employees who are living the change and share their stories. Or, create hypothetical situations and show how they will be impacted by the change.
A conductor knows the entire symphony and brings together the strings, brass, percussions and woodwinds at the right time to create the perfect music. If any single instrument is not doing its part, the whole piece falls apart.
Like musicians learning a symphony, stakeholders need to learn about the change or they will become barriers to acceptance.
If you worked on a big change project in the past, you likely heard stakeholders say:
“This doesn’t apply to us.”
“I don’t agree with the approach.”
“We’re too busy.”
Take the time to build knowledge of the change, so stakeholders (including leaders) are ready to support it. A shared experience, such as an in-person or virtual workshop, is the ideal way to build agreement. The workshop should be designed to:
- Decide on high-level milestones and metrics
- Identify risks
- Involve stakeholders and leaders in developing parts of the communication plan; for example, which tactics would work in their organizations
- Test key communication pieces, such as the change story
- Answer questions
Playing the conductor and building agreement will ensure leaders and other stakeholders truly understand the change, give them a chance to internalize it and agree on communication principles. A nice setup for your planning process.
If your organization’s communication efforts are the building, then the plan is the blueprint. And your job is to lay out the details as clearly as possible.
Just like blueprints help contractors, builders and engineers deliver great work, the best change communication plans help the change team think proactively, define success and prioritize the organization’s efforts.
While each change is unique, there are some key components you’ll want to be sure to include in your plan:
- A situation analysis that sets context and gets everyone on the same page.
- Key audiences that outline the various segments and impacts identified during your investigative stage.
- Communication objectives that are specific, actionable and measurable.
- Key messages, built from your story, that ensure that employees get consistent and helpful information.
- A mix of strategies that demonstrate how you will reach your communication objectives.
- Detailed tactics and timing that bring to life how and when your communication program will work.
When the time comes to implement your plan, you will rely on leaders, managers and other stakeholders, the way a coach relies the athletes taking the field. And like a coach, it’s important to set these colleagues up for success by helping them understand their roles and providing tools and training.
Here are some examples of leader and manager communication roles:
- Senior leaders (C-Suite): Share the vision, clarify priorities, and share progress and accomplishments.
- Key leaders (Next level down): Interpret the big picture to convey “what it means to us”; help abstract, high-level information become concrete and meaningful.
- People managers: Define what employees need to do for the organization to succeed, answer questions and address concerns.
On to tools. Start with three core resources, including a robust set of FAQ, key messages and presentation materials that summarize the change. Be sure to check in with leaders and managers frequently to understand how their communication efforts are going and what additional support they might need.
Next time you’re invited to join a change team, be ready to act as a strategic advisor by wearing these five hats. Each role includes skills that will ensure your communication efforts succeed and employees embrace the change.
Originally published on Medium