5 Steps to Communicating Effectively during Change

During times of change, communication is a critical factor to how well employees will adapt and accept. People need to know what is going on, so taking the time to communicate can have huge benefits. 

Here are some considerations: 

  • People deserve the truth (good or bad). 
  • People deal with bad news all the time, usually much better than we think. 
  • People dislike uncertainty but they dislike no news more. 
  • In some situations the information cannot always be shared, but this shouldn’t be used as a reason unless it is true. 
  • Communication is an effort to convey key messages that shift over time, as awareness of the change spreads and individuals commit to the vision.
  • Communicating with key individuals and groups is obviously critical to the implementation of a change project – whilst communicating in a concise, candid, heartfelt manner is crucial to the success of your change.  

The 5Ws Model for change communication:

  • Who? – Audience 
  • Why? – Behavioural  Objectives 
  • What? – Content 
  • When & How? – Design, Delivery and Timing 
  • What got through? –  Evaluation   


Who is your audience?

The first factor is to decide who your audience or stakeholders are – the people who are affected (either directly or indirectly) by your change. Even people outside your stakeholder group (i.e. those not being affected) may benefit from the knowledge of the change so provision may be needed for communication to this group too, albeit in a different way and with a different frequency.              

  • Who is affected by your change? Whose work, or work life, will change as a direct result? Who will have to do things differently because of this change? 
  • Who is indirectly affected by your change? Who will receive a knock-on effect which may not change their work or work life greatly but may require them to make a one-off change in their own processes. 
  • Who else other than your stakeholders would benefit from knowing about your change, to give them the bigger picture? 

Why are you communicating?

Once you have identified your stakeholder groups, the next stage is to decide what behavioural objectives are appropriate for each group. 

Are you selling the change to them? Consoling them about the change? Persuading them to take on the change? Motivating, reassuring or educating them about the change? Seeking buy-in about the change? 

The behavioural objective is key. When creating content – we should always keep in sight the reason for communicating to the audience(s). 

What are you communicating?

Consider…

  • What information needs do the stakeholders have (each individual group)? 
  • What is the desired response for these individual messages? 
  • What is the likely response? 

Before the change takes place: the vision is all important here. What are you hoping to achieve with this change and what can people expect?  At this stage, people may have some concerns and your willingness to communicate openly can help to gain buy-in from colleagues who are unsure or anxious about the future plans. 

During the change: Repetition and honesty are key here. People may have missed the previous messages about the change so repeating a clear message is important. There are likely to be lots of questions from employees and colleagues so be open to these and allow ample time to address these. Answering questions promptly and honestly will help to retain confidence and faith in the change taking place. Even if you don’t have the information requested, continue to communicate and pass on information as soon as you have it. 

After the change: When the change is completed…keep communicating. It’s important to continue the ebb and flow of communication to ensure the change is well embedded, to provide continuity and give employees a chance to keep asking questions. They’ll also be interested to know how successful a change has been and whether any further actions are taking place. 

When & How?

Think delivery, design and timing. 

  • What channels will we use (using a mix of face-to-face, written and electronic)? When will we use which channels? 
  • Who should deliver the messages? Senior Managers, Team Managers, project experts? 
  • Are there bigger company events that we could tap into? 
  • How will we capture feedback and input? How will we action this? 
  • When should we start communicating and how long should we continue?# 

Also: 

  • Omni-directional communication is important – especially important during a change. Once employees and colleagues see a change taking place, they may well have more questions and anxieties than before. Allow time for questions and take the time to listen to your employees and colleagues. 
  • Electronic comms and social media can be fundamental channels to use in a campaign – make sure to also build in plenty of face-to-face meetings, workshops or Q+A sessions. Use video or audio conferencing if in different locations/countries. 
  • Remain adaptable with your communications during a change – if one method isn’t getting the required results, try something different. 
  • Not everyone understands in the same way – include visuals as well as factual information to assist those who understand better with illustrations. 
  • Above all – keep your communications simple. A complicated message can easily be misunderstood which in turn can lead to further anxiety for colleagues and employees. 
  • Ensure your communication is consistent. If more than one individual is communicating a message, you must ensure that all communicators are sending the same message.     
  • Create a timeline chart of the channels to use, messages to be communicated and the response that you would like to achieve. Use the calendar chart to show milestones, events, etc. alongside the key messages that are to be communicated at each stage. File every communication you deliver. 

What got through?

In your plan make sure to build in provision for evaluating the communications that you are delivering. This should be happening during the project, after each main communication. 

Ways to evaluate: 

  • Online survey or feedback
  • Online comments to articles 
  • Focus groups 
  • In-meeting feedback 
  • Email voting buttons 
  • Suggestion box 
  • Action planning sessions – opportunity for more feedback 
  • Regular team meetings 
  • Face to face ad hoc events, e.g. brown bag lunches, back to the floor sessions for senior managers 
  • Online polling 
  • Intranet visitor statistics 

What to evaluate: 

  • Quantitative – simply measuring if employees have received the email, clicked a link, attended a meeting, taken the action that was asked. 
  • Qualitative – measuring how people’s behaviours or opinions have changed, checking on their understanding and perspectives. 

Once you have carried out your evaluation, build the outcome into your ongoing plan. For example, if a particular message was found not to have reached all your stakeholders, question whether it was the message or channel. You may consider either redelivering it through a different channel or combining it with the next communication being sent out. 

Other considerations: 

  • Are there lessons learnt to note and share? 
  • When receiving feedback, make sure you respond to it – whether accepting the idea or rejecting it – to maintain engagement. 
  • Once your change is complete, conclude the process properly by debriefing all parties to check every aspect has been addressed as well as to gain valuable insights and learning. 
  • Don’t be afraid to revisit parts of your communication. If your evaluation shows the message has not been taken on board, re-communicate. Think about communicating in a different way or channel to give your message added emphasis this time round. 
  • Evaluation is not solely about issues and things that went wrong. It can highlight successes and achievements and it is important that you communicate these just as much as resolutions to problems. Communicating achievements can increase motivation and continue to gain buy-in for your change. 

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