Change communicators need data and to be adept at gathering it. Below we look at some of the reasons for gathering it and make some suggestions about the questions you need to ask and talk about some additional resources a communicator should know about.
Most of the work internal communicators do is about change whether that’s practical changes or personal transformation. We work in a field where we’re continually updating employees on new processes, changes to benefits schemes, helping to embed corporate values or supporting large-scale business transformation projects and more.
No matter what the size and scale of the change, it’s important to know where you are, right from the beginning, in order to effectively plan and track progress.
You need data.
You’ll want to know how you are doing, so depending upon the scale of the change you’ll need to do some research during the change and of course as you approach completion to see how successful the change has been.
Crucially, data adds weight to your advice and helps to head off some of the pointless speculation that seems to surround every programme we’ve ever worked on. When colleagues are happy to play guessing games about how well communication is working, you will want evidence, no matter how sketchy, to bring a note of realism to bear.
You can draw upon existing data and information for some projects, while others will need a specific study. Research doesn’t always need to be long, expensive or delivered by an external agency. Survey tools, a clear approach to your questions and knowing what you need to find out are key to helping you to do your own research.
The change communications process
We say that change communications can typically follow five stages and it is useful to understand how far along your audiences are in the process of:
- Celebration and reinforcement.
Delivering the survey
Follow these tips to help you build a survey to help you make sure that your change programme starts off from the right footing.
Before you start, ask yourself:
- What exactly do I need to know and why?
Be clear about the issue that you want to understand. Don’t waste your time and that of your colleagues by trying to prove a point what you already really know. Are you ready to listen properly; don’t waste people’s time and your credibility by asking questions you don’t want the answer to…
Most of all focus on outcomes – not process. You want to know if the communications are bringing about change; information about how many people are seeing the intranet can be uncovered elsewhere.
- What do I want to happen with the information after I have gathered it?
Measure the right things. Make sure that your survey will give you results that will be useful and fit for the purpose. You should also have the support of the managers, with whom you want to share the results, before you embark on the survey process. With their buy-in it’ll make it much easier to share the results without having to expend more time defending what you did, why you did it and whether you asked the right questions. Consider your audience, their teams and how they’ll need to use the information you discover.
- Will I need to ask everyone or will a sample be enough?
This will depend on your situation. Of course a sample survey is cheaper, easier to administer and minimises survey fatigue, and can still give you a good insight into a given topic. But a significant change programme affecting the whole organisation may need a more detailed and thorough approach to ensure you’ve given everyone a chance to have their say.
- Does the information (or something like it) already exist somewhere else?
Every organisation has a mass of data in its different departments. Perhaps there’s already some data in the business that you can mine and use to inform your work or supplement your own research.
- What resources do you have to create and analyse a survey?
Have you got the time, tools and people to do your own research and do it well? You may need to pull in help from other departments if you’re a small comms team. Make sure you use the strengths of the people and resources you have to the best effect.
- How detailed do you need your research to be?
This will depend on your project, the scope of the area affected by the change and of course the resource you have available to deliver the survey and analyse the results in a useful way. Think about how you’ll report back. Too much information can become unmanageable and difficult to draw clear actions from. Report what you need to and use your deeper findings and knowledge when needed.
Example questions for a change project
These are some questions we’ve used in change surveys. You may not need all of them and we’ve grouped them to make it easier to understand what would be asked and why.
We normally ask people to tell us on a five point scale how far they agree with a set of statements.
- I am aware that the company is implementing a new strategy
- I think XYZ thinks ahead and plans for the future.
- I understand the changes proposed in the new strategy
- I see the need for the changes outlined in the new strategy
- At work, I know what is expected of me.
- I want to change the way I work
- I think the company is implementing its plans in line with our values
- I am passionate about the future of the company.
- I know where to find out more information about the changes which the company is making
- I feel supported during organisational change
- I have access to the resources (e.g. material, equipment, technology) I need to do my job effectively
- I have the training I need to do my job effectively.
“Is it working?” questions
- I can see changes happening around me as a result of the new strategy
- I feel the new structure lets me do my job better than before.
You may have your own to add to this list and no doubt your project will have some specific questions that you need to include. Often we’ll include a question about whether managers are able to explain how change works for example. But we’ve found this list a useful start to many change projects in a range of industries and situations.
Feel free to comment and let us know what you would add. And I’d love to hear about your experiences of implementing change research in your organisations.
Over the years we have found the following to be incredibly useful resources:
Susan Walker’s book on Employee Engagement Research looks at larger scale studies and provides some great case studies of how organisations implement their research.
Kevin Ruck provides an academic overview of the subject in his study text Exploring Internal Communication
If you need to get more focused on employee engagement, Emma Bridger’s book has some really helpful tools for understanding the situation in your organisation.
Finally, every internal communicator should bookmark Angela Sinickas’ website – she’s forgotten more about measurement than many of us every knew in the first place!