Solve the mystery of effective change communication

Ever attended a murder mystery dinner? It’s a type of dinner theatre in which participants interact with cast members to solve a fictional murder; and the event generates a whirlwind of emotions: excitement (both to eat and to solve a mystery), confusion (Seriously, who killed who?) and relief (Mystery solved!).

The steps you take to solve the crime aren’t just helpful at your dinner; they can also assist when communicating change to employees. Here are four ways a murder mystery can help solve the challenges of change communication:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


Reveal the key change champions

When you first sit down at a murder mystery, the host will choose one person from each table to play a character. This character will become immersed in the plot line. Will he or she be the murderer? One will soon find out!

When your company decides to implement a change, you need employees to play a key role as well. In change, the “characters” are champions who are carefully selected from all parts of the organization to learn about what’s happening and share key information with employees in their areas.

The ‘change champions’ are the individuals responsible for communicating next steps to the company.

Change champions will help you:

  • Tell a consistent story
  • Customize content for different functions, regions or locations
  • Answer employees’ questions      

Set the context

When you arrive at a murder mystery, you don’t immediately see a tombstone revealing who was murdered and how it happened. You need background information before diving into the ‘who dun it’ part of the night. That is where the host comes in. He/she sets the stage and gives context for the horrible crime.

To get employees on board they need to know what it is happening. Just as participants need a bit of a backstory to solve the mystery, employees need to know why change is occurring.

That’s why you need to put messages into context and align it with other messages in your organization by:

  • Referencing previous change and/or the past. Is this an outgrowth of something that was done before, or is it a completely new direction?
  • Linking the message to what’s important—your organization’s goals, values, strategy, etc.
  • Articulating what it means for each employee in his/her job.         

Communicate just in time          

When you first arrive at a murder mystery, people at your table are given a packet of information with clues to assist in solving the mystery. Throughout the night, participants mingle with other tables to share clues with people, who don’t have the same information as you. If you reveal too much too soon, things can get confusing; but if you reveal too little, the mystery will never be solved.

When it comes to change, no one in the organization—including leaders—has information about everything that’s going to happen. That’s because change is a journey and decisions are made based on developments along the way.

So you need to provide timely communication that:

  • Focuses on what employees need to do—and when they need to do it
  • Includes deadlines
  • Provides updates
  • Is transparent



Celebrate progress and success 

Once the mystery is finally solved, the host of the night takes a minute to thank participants for their hard work. The players who ‘performed’ receive a special recognition to credit them and everyone else receives an ‘award’ in the form of a three-course meal!

It is extremely important to keep employees inspired during times of change. Unless your organization is teetering on the edge of collapse, it is still doing many things right—and has a strong foundation of successes.

When you create change messages for leaders, find ways to tell both sides of the story: what’s strong and needs to continue, and what needs to be changed to ensure that the company will prosper in the future. It’s critical to recognize progress in change as it occurs—and to pay tribute to the company’s success prior to the new change initiative.