Communication Is The Key To Successfully Implementing Any Large-scale Organizational Change

j0409404I firmly believe that communication is the key to successfully implementing any large-scale organizational change.

Whether you are implementing new systems, redesigning business processes, or transforming organization structures through downsizing and M&A, effective communication is absolutely critical.

A former colleague used to write, “Communication is more than the tangible vehicles and tools that convey information; it is the glue that binds internal and external stakeholders to your vision, mission, goals and activities. Effective communication engages the hearts and minds of all stakeholders.”

With regards to a change process, the objective of these communications is to move your target audiences along the following continuum with the stated effects:

  • Awareness – individuals are conscious of the change
  • Understanding – individuals have a shared meaning of the change
  • Acceptance – individuals internalize the change and have a more favourable outlook
  • Alignment – individuals provide appropriate levels of support for the change
  • Commitment – individuals begin to claim responsibility and ownership for the change

This is only achieved by developing a communication strategy that utilizes multiple communication vehicles and delivery channels throughout the course of the change process. Most importantly, these communications must build upon each other to share a bit more of the story as it unfolds. It is not sufficient to make a global announcement the day before or the day the change occurs.

Here is a framework to make it easy for leaders to remember as they communicate direction to the teams they lead – The 7 P’s of High Performance:

Perspective – the big picture – the environment, market, competitors, customers needs, technology – an overview from 30,000 feet.

Problem – what is threatening (or wrong) with the current situation – what is not working as well as it needs to – where would we likely end up if we did nothing.

Purpose – what are we attempting to accomplish stated in both objective and subjective terms – what are our goals for this initiative/change process.

Principles – criteria (or critical success factors) we have used in our thinking process to insure success – the relevant guidelines we have applied.

Plan – what is our “go forward” proposition we believe will move us in the right direction – how the future will look different – how things will be different for people.

Process – an update on what steps have taken place to date – plus the next steps we contemplate in conjunction with the next P.

Participation – what necessary and important role for involvement we see for the team – stated as in :invitation” – and creating the opening for involvement from all players needed for success.

Here are some other resources and thoughts:

From the book “Nameless Organizational Change,” by Glen-Allen Meyer. In a nutshell:

  1. Organizations market their products and services
  2. Leaders (and change agents) know how to market
  3. Changes are given names (e.g. “Super teams 2010”)
  4. Named changes are hyped and marketed throughout the organization – We see this often in South Africa where campaigns have an ethnic name
  5. In the marketplace outside of the organization, people can say “no” to marketed products and services they do not want.
  6. Inside the workplace, people cannot easily say “no” to the changes that are marketed “at them”
  7. My experience is that most change “communication plans” are, in fact, marketing plans
  8. Since they cannot say “no” to marketed change, dissonance is established in the minds, psyches, and beings of people who want to say “no” but who know that, in some way, they must comply
  9. In addition to genuine change, this dissonance produces stress and resistance during change
  10. Stress and resistance to programmatic, marketed organization change causes signs of dysfunction during major change including absenteeism, turnover, accidents, tardiness and more
  11. These signs of dysfunction add cost and time to major change.

The “nameless” approach helps leaders implement change without the hype and without the resistance produced by marketed (i.e. “communicated”) change. A model for nameless change is presented in the book including the step-by-step process by which the change is “seeded” and “harvested” in the organization instead of being driven by complex and “slick” change marketing plans.

In short, I believe that people at work today are far savvier “consumers” of change than were their predecessors of even ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. People “object” with the “flavour-of-the-month” objection because they’re rather well used to the methods of change being promulgated by many management gurus.

I’ve found the book ‘Communicating Change: Winning Employee Support for New Business Goals’ by TJ & Sandar Larkin very helpful but for my money Kotter’s Leading Change Book is the best.

From Kotter’s principles, one can readily derive excellent models and specific instruments for promoting and monitoring change management. For a short version, there is his classic 1995 Harvard Business Review article, “Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” which cites insufficient communication as a chief cause of failed change management.