Five questions to plan change communication.

Change communication need not be complicated. We believe that there are just five simple questions you need to ask when planning to talk about transformation.

Over the years I have found that change, or rather transformation programmes, tend to place relatively similar challenges on communicators. Even if the conversation starts with “we need a logo for our change team” we find ourselves being drawn deeper into trying to help shift the way people behave in the workplace.

Asking these five questions in a planning workshop, will nearly always give you a solid basis for developing a communications plan.

5 questions slide

1. Have we explained what we are all about?

Many communications programmes begin and end with raising awareness. But while we all know that two-way communication is essential for change you have to get the basic awareness right.  So ask yourself when are you going to tell people, what can you say and how often can you repeat it?  And avoid assuming that because you have posted something on the intranet or included it in the CEO’s email people will have heard it. You will normally need to find multiple different ways to deliver the news and you need a mechanism for checking it has landed.

2. Do they get it?

We all know that there is a world of difference between knowing something and understanding something. Because you have announced something people will still need information to help them make senses of it for themselves.  They will want to talk about why something is happening, what the personal implications are for them and be ready to explain it at home or to colleagues.  Communicators need to think about how people can explore an issue further, test their own understanding or get a sense of its impact. Pointing people at an article on the intranet or hoping that they were listening at a town hall speech just doesn’t usually cut it.

3. Do they believe?

Just because the boss thinks something is a brilliant idea doesn’t mean everyone else will. The truth is that we need to engage with people on an emotional level – either to damp down their fears or to get excited about the opportunity.  This is where we should be asking searching questions about how the proposed transformation or transition touches on personal values in your organisation or among your colleagues. And you need a well-developed sense of the ridiculous to stop you trying to ‘spin’ bad news.  And writers such as Quirke and William Bridges have consistently highlighted the value of involving people in designing change in their organisation. If people can help shape the future, they are more likely to support it.

4. Can they actually do it?

It’s all very well exciting people but if they haven’t got the tools, the skills or opportunity to do what you ask of them, change isn’t really very likely to happen is it?  The role of the communication team at this stage is to:

  • Signpost where tools and skills can be acquired
  • Provide intelligence to the programme team where people are experiencing difficulties in doing what they are needed to do!

5.  Is it business as usual?

In most organisations, deep change can actually take quite a while to come about. In fact people may miss the opportunity to notice that things are being done differently, that old habits have been lost or that real results are being achieved.  How you plan for maintaining momentum is a major theme in the early writing of change guru John Kotter.

The question the communication team needs to consider is about how we keep celebrating success and signposting developments whilst maintaining a focus on the results that the organisation wants to achieve.

And the communication team will want to think about how they track people against these five questions.

You can read more of our thoughts about change in our book (follow the link to download a longer chapter on change communication).