Seventy years or so after the birth of commercial advertising, most organisations are pretty good at promoting the “change” they want in to see in how customers value their brand and make buying decisions. The business of spruiking new products, services and special offers to customers makes the world go ‘round for advertising agencies, direct mail companies, event management firms, website developers, telemarketers and human billboards, to name just a few.
Change is the prevailing economic condition, yet it’s a pity so few organisations are not as good at promoting change to their internal audience: employees. This is often seen by senior managers as problematic—when really it’s an opportunity to continually up-skill workers, align employee behaviour to new organisational goals, build leaders, and motivate and empower employees for real, lasting competitive advantage.
Here are eight steps I’ve gleaned from change programs in industries as diverse as FMCGs, retail electronics, government, technology and utilities:
- Plan your communication well before you begin implementing the change. All too often we hear of internal change communications that are too little, and too late. Get specialist help if you don’t have it on staff, just as you would if planning a major television or online advertising campaign
- Make absolutely certain your organisation’s culture will accept change. If not, go back to #1
- Try to anticipate the arguments against change and decide how to counteract them positively. Have strategies to deal with change resistors
- Enlist change agents, or champions for change everywhere in your organisation. Pay particular attention to middle managers who, by virtue of their position, understand how to bring each employee along on your change journey
- Ensure all change messages are succinct, believable and tailored to your audience
- Consider the many methods and media (face-to-face, town hall meetings, employee publications/intranet, posters, videos, SMS, visual identity etc) to deliver your message not once or twice, but over and over again
- Monitor the effectiveness of your activities before, during and after implementation. And don’t stop communicating too soon
- Be the change. Nothing conveys the integrity and urgency of any organisational message better than the actions of your managers—and nothing will torpedo your efforts faster and more completely than managers not “walking the walk.”
The importance of “selling change” to an internal audience is the subject of a very instructive white paper by Susan Dyster, Communications Manager at knowledge and productivity improvement experts TP3. Entitled Communicating Change it explores both the academic literature and what happens in the real world to understand why seven out of every 10 organisational change projects in Australia workplaces fail. The full white paper is available here.
From John Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change from his 1995 book Leading Change, to recent research by Rutgers’ sociology professor Jason Torkelson on how communication works best within today’s subcultures, the paper reviews the critical role of change communications, arriving at extremely useful and indeed surprising conclusions about how best to:
- Improve change receptivity
- Increase the likelihood of success in transformational change initiatives
- Importantly, build change readiness into your organisation.
External change is here to stay, and effectively communicating that change internally is crucial to every organisation’s long-term success.
If you find you’re leading change within your organisation and you’d like to increase your skills in this area, check out our influencing skills courses.