We all know how important communications is especially during change. In fact, most of the change management methods recognize the importance of communications and includes it as part of the process. While this is good news, there’s certainly a misconception that communication is just a check box and developing a plan is enough.
The truth? Developing a communications plan to align with the overall change management plan is critical, but effective communications takes much more than this. Every communications practitioner will have their own approach but here’s a breakdown of the process I follow when I begin supporting a new change project.
Step 1: Learn about the company including its’ culture, history and business strategy
Now that I am on the consulting side, I find it more important than ever to take the time to really get to know the company I am supporting. Getting to know the details about its’ culture helps me to understand what they care about, how they work together and how they have dealt with change in the past. This is all great insight and helps me to think about the communications approach and tone I want to take. For example, I have been able to pick up on how well teams work together or how decisions are made based on observing and listening. This is useful intel especially when I think about where the business may be at this point of the change – if teams are working in silos and the success of the project requires collaboration, I know I need to add in activities that will promote this way of thinking and certain behaviours.
The history of a company is useful as it will tell me how well they have navigated change in the past, and tells me more about how they got to where they are today. Knowing this also provides me with good information to help develop my plan. For instance, a company that is hundreds of years in age may be less adaptable to certain types of change as they’ve been able to succeed and do things the way they have for a long time, whereas younger ‘start-up’ like companies may be more open to change but uncomfortable being in a position where they just need to keep the status quo.
Finally knowing the business strategy is also key! You definitely don’t want to spend too much time promoting or engaging people on the wrong thing. An example that comes to mind here is if the business has multiple lines of business but is focused on growing only one of them. It’s also much easier to plan ahead with communications activities once you understand where they want to go. I often think about technology and how important it is to the success of a company today. By knowing that they are open and want to embrace this tells me that the desire to become more digital should be a part of the key messaging.
Step 2: Get to know the leadership team and their personal communications style
Part of the change management process involves knowing who the influencers of the organization are, as well as, tapping into the leadership team who will help to drive the change throughout the company. I’ve always made it a point to develop relationships with the leadership team so that we can work collaboratively to determine what communications are required, but to also determine what their communications style is. Leaders deliver the messages much better when they can bring their employees along with them, are authentic, and confident in the delivery. How they do this really depends on their personal approach to communications, in addition to, how people are accustomed to receiving such messages within the organization (e.g. face to face, email etc.).
Everyone has their own unique way of communicating and I always advise leaders to communicate in a way where they feel most comfortable. I have worked with many leaders, and all have their own communications strengths and opportunities. I find that leaders are most effective when they feel confident delivering the message in a way that feels natural to them. I also make sure to tie in any common sayings they use and ask them to simplify the language as much as possible (conversational is usually best!)
This is not to say that I also don’t push to get them to try new things.
The way people communicate is constantly changing and I strongly believe that this has to be reflected in a corporate environment as well. Something that stands out to me here is the way we use our phones and other devices today. Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are still people out there who don’t use their phones or devices for everything, but the majority of us do, so we have to make sure we tap into this to get our messages out. With people scrolling and looking for headlines, it’s now more important than ever for communicators to support leaders in being clear and succinct with their messages. It’s also a great idea for them to leverage new tools like Yammer that allow two-way communications with their employees in real-time.
Lastly, having strong relationships with this group has not only made it easier for approvals to happen, but has also made it possible for me to have a seat at the table. It is much better when we are there to contribute and engage in discussions versus just executing on business decisions without having any input or the opportunity to ask the right questions. Having strong relationships and trust also makes it easier for leaders or the organization to try new things and be open to your suggestions.
Step 3: Work in tandem with the project team and change leads
One thing is for sure – communications alone cannot lead or manage change. It is truly a collaborative effort. You must work together to ensure all of the plans align, otherwise it’s just not going to work! You cannot work in isolation and understanding the priorities of the other parts of the project is important as it will also help drive what you put in a communications plan.
Similar to what I’ve mentioned above, relationships are key. Each individual on the project team brings invaluable expertise and it’s important that everyone feels comfortable enough to develop their plans with different perspectives and input from several people. There are always a number of communications activities included in my plans that have been provided by others on the team from different parts of the business.
Working together also gives you much greater influencing power. More often than not large change projects require the help of both internal employees and external consultants. As a consultant, it can often be challenging to get things over the line, but if you leverage the power from several consultants, you’ll have a much better chance in getting approvals or moving something forward.
So, while a communications plan is critical and an important way to drive change through an organization, there’s much more to it than just putting a plan together. Effective communications requires staying up to date on current trends, collaboration and must be adapted for every project or person you work with.
As a communications professional, I will never stop learning and always look forward to the variety I get from working with new clients and teams.
Siri Maldonado Director of Marketing & Communications Toronto