Do it wrong, and you can drive away the very people whose support is critical; you can foster the belief that the change isn’t really going to happen; you can confuse people about what you are trying to accomplish.
Do it right, and you will generate a strong network of support; you will move people’s hearts as well as minds; you will bring the resistance level down; you will gain insights on how to successfully move forward.
Other posts have addressed various aspects of change communication that I will not be repeating here. (See “What’s Your Story,” “What’s Your Story: Guidelines 1-5,” “What’s Your Story: Guidelines 6-8,” “Telling Your Organization’s Change Story,” “Telling Your Personal Change Story,” “Who Do You Listen To,” “Speaking of Communicating…,” “Communication Goes Both Ways,” “Enlist People In Your Change,” “Are You Talking With the Right People?”)
Today’s post specifically addresses three key elements of change communication: message content, messenger characteristics, and channel effectiveness. (NOTE: This content is based on the work of the Center for Risk Communications.)
Message Content: We’ve all seen those change communications, heard them, read them. We are re-conceiving our approach to the inevitable diminution of our primary markets, re-aligning our go-to-market strategies for secondary and tertiary markets, and re-focusing our approach to maximize the opportunities provided by the growth of the Millennial Generation in the work force.
Got it? Neither did I.
Your messaging needs to be clear; use simple language that is easily understood.
It needs to be concise. The message isn’t complete when you can’t find anything else to put into it; it is complete when there is nothing else you can take out.
The message needs to be brief. In a study released earlier this year, Microsoft found that the average attention span is now eight seconds. You may need more time than that to communicate the change…the point is, keep it short!
Finally, your message needs to be positive. That’s not to say that you should “paint a rosy picture” or mislead people about the negatives. But, for every negative statement, provide three positive ones. And, the positive ones should come first.
Messenger Characteristics: I was once working with a client that had become stuck in attempting to execute a major technology initiative. The Chief Operating Officer was saying all the right things, and shaking his head in agreement at all the right times. But, there was no traction in Operations for actually moving the project forward. As is not uncommon, the CEO saw the delays as the responsibility of the Chief Technology Officer to address; after all, it was “his project.” The Chief Technology Officer had tried everything he could to persuade and cajole his Operations peer to get on board, but to no avail.
I sat down with the project team to create a Role Map (R), charting the influence streams at the senior levels of the organization. I asked the team to identify who had the most influence with the CEO when it came to technology. They immediately named Brad. Brad was not the Chief Technology Officer; he was not even a full-time employee. Brad was a grad student who worked part-time at the IT help desk. One day he had answered a call from the CEO, and was able to guide him through addressing his problem. The CEO began to specifically ask for Brad whenever he called, and a trusted relationship had developed.
Brad was recruited to the project team; we worked with him to craft the critical messages that he needed to deliver to the CEO (clear, concise, brief, and positive). As a result, the team was able to get the level of CEO engagement needed to bring the COO into alignment and move the project forward.
Your messengers must be trusted.
Your messengers must also be credible. Brad was credible with the CEO when it came to technology-related issues. It is likely that he would not have been the right messenger if the challenge was related to the execution of a Sales and Marketing initiative.
Channel Effectiveness: Different communications channels are effective in achieving different outcomes.
If you want to inform people about some element of the change, to make them aware of it, then mass media can work. A caution here…as I have written before, this is not the most effective way to inform people of a major change.
If your purpose is to obtain feedback about the change or its execution, involve them in it.
If you are seeking to enlist people in support of the change, you need to engage them, to enter into a dialogue.
What lessons have you learned along the way about change messaging, messengers, and channels. What has, and/or hasn’t, worked for you? Comment below.