What happens after the big announcement? How do you avoid periods of long silence during transformation programmes asks Liam FitzPatrick.
Transformations seem to be prone to Announcement-itis. It’s a condition involving infrequent and dramatic announcements punctuated by long periods of silence from the programme team. Internal and external stakeholders can find themselves in the dark about plans and progress – with damaging results.
It seems to have some common causes.
There’s nothing to say (or so they may think…)
It might be that the programme team doesn’t really see the value of communications apart from telling the rest of the organisation how successful they are. In my experience the condition tends to die off as successes become ever less significant and deadlines slip. In the end, everything is quietly forgotten.
Alternatively, everyone develops an obsession with waiting until there is new news to share. The problem is that in a fast-moving transformation, the point at which something is news is often unclear as things seep out in small droplets and the team at the centre of the change finds it’s hard to remember what has been shared anyway. In the end nothing is ever put into a proper context.
Yes, we’ve launched, what next?
Or it could be due to poor planning on the part of the communication team.
Exhausted by the effort of making the big launch we can often lose momentum. Update articles for the intranet take longer than expected to produce and become out of date before they have been signed off. The lack of firm deadlines removes the pressure to produce the video for use in team meetings and no one on the project team realises that they have to help with the monthly manager event.
So what preventative steps can internal communicators take?
Deadlines and foresight
I have always found it useful to prepare a grid that covers each phase of the programme and for each channel or tactic planned.
I ensure that we have a week by week schedule for the next six or eight weeks, after which the plan is broken down by months.
The point is not just to impose deadlines on myself (without which I am the world’s worst for prevarication) but also to ensure that upcoming communications needs are anticipated. If we are planning a voice of the customer video, for example, in four weeks time, the comms team knows that it should already be in production.
During a transformation programme things just seem to take longer to achieve so you need to plan for it.
There’s always an issue with sign offs and approvals – a transformation brings out the worst types of nervousness among leaders. And it is hard to tell when a technical specialist is being helpfully specific or chronically pedantic. You just have to expect the additional length of time which things can take and factor it in to avoid the void of information.
It’s about context and YSIC.
It can be difficult to identify what can be said, especially during the early planning stages of a transformation. However, once a change has been unveiled, silence can be interpreted as suspicious or a sign of a loss of momentum.
If in doubt, communications can always fall back on context and Why should I care (YSIC).
Context is all about explaining the forces at work that necessitate change and transformation. These can be negative and positive; threats or opportunities. Finding ways to share the views of internal and external experts or bringing the voice of the customer inside are always useful.
And, using external voices considerably shortens the approvals cycle as fewer individual project leaders need to be consulted.
Importantly, once the execution detail of the project is known, people are less likely to be receptive to context; they want to know about themselves and how they are impacted. Spend the early months getting the context story across.
YSIC is at the heart of what we’re trying to say. Not What’s in it for me ? Our aim is not to imply some benefit (even when there isn’t one) but rather to show how people are impacted – people like you.
A communicator should always be planning to provide case studies, illustration and data that show how colleagues lives are going to change. Where there is a voluntary component (there usually is unless job losses are involved) people like to know if anyone else is changing.
But pulling this information together can be deeply challenging. Programme teams don’t like to admit how few people have access to training or how late the new IT package is going to be.
Getting actions on the forward plan and getting the programme team’s agreement that it’s needed will, in the longer term, add real value to your organisation. The programme team won’t have to live with the consequences of selling employees a promise they can’t keep after they get promoted or move on to their next assignments – the comms team will.
Nailing down the plan has practical benefits in keeping things moving and establishing the role of the comms team as more than just the post box for the rare occasions the programme team wants to talk.
Thanks for stopping by. Have you anything to share from your experience in transformation? We’d love to hear from you, send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured image credit: Martin Dörsch CCO splashbase.co