or, communicating for change readiness
Billy Joel song not only provided the title for this post but also the lines that should stick in the mind of communicators and corporate leaders:
I don’t want clever conversation
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are
Change is a recurrent process in all organisations and can cover any type of transformations, such as: systems change (technology), change of ownership (mergers, acquisitions) and continuous change (new strategy, reorganisation).
All of them require the coordinated participation of everyone in the company, not just a few change agents or change leaders. As a result, it is a must that the whole company be effectively engaged in the change, which makes communication a critical component of the equation.
Some companies will opt to focus on the end result and will share the terms of change once it’s a ‘done deal’ – this option is the right one for announcing mergers for example, as you might have market trading issues to consider. But in any other cases, the focus should be on change readiness, not on the change itself. Are your employees ready to accept the change? ready to embrace it?
Nobody likes change. It’s human nature. Resisting it is a natural process from employees. And guiding the company through a change process effectively can make the difference between the leadership just running a business and actually leading an organisation.
There are some golden rules in communicating change – and establishing an environment of transparency and trust is a fundamental one (Billy’s cue: I don’t want clever conversation / I just want someone that I can talk to).
The good news is, it’s very easy – the bad news, it requires time (involvement) from the leadership otherwise engaged in not only managing the business, but also crafting the change.
So, simply, here are the key ingredients to create change readiness by establishing trust:
– Involve mid-management, or staff, at an early stage: describe the need for change, rationale, what it means for the company
– Provide regular updates: what you know now, what you don’t know. The latter is tough, as leadership might feel they should be able to provide all answers in order to inspire confidence. It is however ok to say “I don’t know (yet)”.
– Provide an environment that fosters 2-ways communications: town halls, virtual forum, q&a sessions, etc. Even if you feel you provided all the answers already, employees need this for their own understanding process – and venting (fears, frustrations, or excitement) is part of it.
– Keep your promises: “ we will keep you informed / will talk to you next on <date>” -do it.
This is all about keeping the lines of engagement open through a continuous communication process, and not about just sending out news. It has the advantage of removing uncertainties (Change’s worst enemy! – usually goes with ‘Rumours’) and keeping the information clear, aligned and consistent – the opposite of noise or disjointed communications. This is the difference between ‘sending out a message’ and an actual communication process.
You could ask: Is that all? Well, as far as laying the ground goes, yes. However, there is more to change communication and the Communication function (here taking the liberty to talk on behalf of my fellow professionals) can play a significant role with planning approach, choosing tactics, managing resources and offer guidance about content progression. Done in collaboration with other functions (HR, Legal), it becomes an enterprise change communication process that will successfully support the leadership to lead their organisation through turbulences, not just run a business on a bumpy road.
Now, how about Billy? Here you are, enjoy!
This is a good piece about communicators facilitating the work of change leaders… But isn’t the role of a communicator to be one?
Thanks for your comment Mike, and you made a very good point. I do agree with you: our role as communication professionals is to lead, but also to facilitate the change (stepping back is part of good leadership). It is true though that this post focused largely on the facilitating part in order to foster change readiness, as opposed to implement the change (where clearly communication should lead the show).
I value your input, as always – greatly appreciated!