Communication is the Engine Driving Change Management

Developing excellent communication skills is absolutely essential to effective leadership. If a leader can’t get a message across clearly and motivate others to act on it, then having a message doesn’t even matter.

— Gilbert Amelio, former Apple CEO

Whether your organization is planning a complex realignment or reorganizing work activities across a function, it is vital to communicate these changes early and often. Any change requires a significant persuasion campaign that begins well before the process officially starts to ensure efficiency and minimize stress and apprehension. We often see organizations spend significant time crafting the message itself but little time on the actual communication strategy. When driving change management communications, the organizations that get past the what of the message and focus on the who, when, and how, get far better results such as decreased employee turnover, enhanced employer net promoter scores, etc.

We recently had the opportunity to conduct strategic organization design sessions for two different segments of a multi-national company. At the end of the sessions, one leader kept the executive team together for an additional day to exclusively conduct communications planning while the other leader chose to lead the communications discussion via email. As months went by and change implementation ensued, it was easy to observe that the segment that emphasized and valued communication had a smoother and faster transition.

The best communication strategies are multi-pronged and go beyond written communiqués. They include stakeholder analysis, training initiatives, face-to-face meetings, social media engagement, and employee feedback loops. Regardless of what platforms you choose, here are four key steps to maximize your communication effectiveness.

Set the Conditions for Success

Leaders need to convince everyone impacted that only through radical change will the company progress forward by presenting a strong case for the change. This should be done through supporting data such as key performance indicators (quantifiable measures that an organization uses to gauge its performance over time), benchmarking (comparing your own organization’s operations or processes against other organizations in your industry), and market analysis.

Clearly Detail the Plan

One of the most effective ways to present a plan is through a process, method, and end-state (PME) approach.

Purpose: the reason going through this change is necessary with pertinent supporting data.

Method: how the change will happen so employees know what to expect throughout the process. We are going to go through a deliberate organization design process within our IT department; this process will include X, Y, and Z. Then outline each key step in the appropriate amount of detail commensurate with the size of the project and the culture of the organization.

End-state: the desired outcome. What the organization is expected to look like after implementing change and/or how the organization will benefit from the change.

Using PME facilitates communication about what experiences the organization will go through, which in turn will help manage expectations. Giving a complete overview of the process by saying: Here’s the why we’re going to do it, here are the methods we’re going to use, and here’s the intended results we expect to see when complete, helps employees and others participating in the change know what to expect and the desired the end goals. That knowledge makes it easier to deal with whatever hiccups occur along the way because it occurs within the framework the PME has established.

Leading the Change

Appointing Alignment Leaders® who champion the change is critical because they work both sides of the fence; they’re advocates for both change and for the employees. After presenting the plan, their positivity and can-do attitude will help manage the employees’ reaction by acknowledging the pain points and the benefits of the change. While focusing on the hard work ahead, they also provide conduits for feedback to give employees a voice, so there is a two-way communication stream.

Maintaining Momentum

You really can’t over-communicate; too little communication will always be far more problematic than too much. So as the turnaround starts generating results, it’s important to reinforce the desired changes with positive communication—This is what we changed, these are the results we achieved, and this is why it helps our company in the long run—to prevent any kind of back-sliding.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that no industry—or related market—is static. So while you are in the middle of an organizational realignment, however big or small, by the time you reach your end goal, the market or industry has likely changed to some degree, requiring minor adjustments. Think of how a quarterback completes a pass. He doesn’t aim for where the receiver is the moment he throws; he has to anticipate where the receiver will be in the time it takes the football to travel. Realignments are similar. There’s an educated understanding of where the market is going, but the reality by the time the realignment is finished may be slightly different. So leaders have to be transparent that realignment itself isn’t the end goal; it’s being better aligned to execute the company’s strategy and deliver the desired results.