I loved working in internal communications. By far the hardest issue to tackle, after getting managers to cascade information, was managing change. In other words: how can you help people change and make it painless?
A Forbes article discussed why one equation of why change fails. In the article, Lior Arussy, CEO and president of global transformation consultancy the Strativity Group and author of new book Next is Now lists survey results on why a change failed: poor communication (62%), insufficient leadership and support (54%), organizational politics (50%), lack of understanding of the purpose of the change (50%), lack of user buy-in (42%) and lack of collaboration (40%) as the most critical issues. Although the CEO lists how leaders and employees can get on board, one of the most important ingredients to successful change is missing: involve the people facing the change before the change is decided and implemented.
Just so we’re clear, change management can be used for technical and non-technical projects. You’ll need change management in trying to get people to use a new intranet, but you might also face challenges in giving new parking instructions for your building. For each scenario, even parking instructions, some people will care more than others.
1. If you can, start with involving them in the decision to change to get the most buy-in.
Most of the time, you can involve people in a decision. You may need to set parameters (we can’t spend more money, we only have 30 minutes to solve this), but invite those affected by the change to help address the problem. After listening to ideas, make the decision.
Let’s take parking as an example. Your vendor has just alerted you they’re raising parking rates. That’s the time to stop and gather the people who park at your company. Let them know your vendor wants to raise rates. Then set parameters — the company can’t make up the difference in parking as a company. Maybe you’re not ready to switch contracts with another vendor. Also let them know who the final decision belongs to. After the group has brainstormed, ask them for their favorite ideas. The decision-maker can make a better decision and the people impacted had an opportunity to understand the issue as well as help solve the problem.
Don’t let it stop there, though. You’re not done. They’ll still need communication. Ask them, too, to help solve communication. How should you let people know? How many times is enough? Same constraints exist — budget, time, and final decisions.
It’s part of the psychology of change. Although one doctor made significant improvements using these principles to stop infection, the idea goes beyond the healthcare industry, applying to many situations. Thinking about implementing a new employee engagement program? Trying to reduce costs and cut waste? Can’t deliver raises, but want to reward employees? Looking to reduce fraud? Want to improve security?
2. Enlist champions in your organization. Ask them to help communicate and embrace the change.
Every organization has change agents and from project to project, they won’t be the same people. These early adopters should automatically be included and will be on board; they’ll help champion your cause.
A group of often overlooked champions are leaders: middle managers, officers, or just people admired at your company. Most leaders, at least the good ones, love to be asked to help their organization.
How can leaders help? I have a personal story. In 2006, my company introduced a mentor program. Great, right? It was. We had plenty of mentees all queued up and ready to go. But … we didn’t have many mentors.
My organizational development (OD) colleagues and I came up with an idea to enlist the cream-of-the-crop leaders and ask them to agree to be a mentor. In fact, we talked with each of them individually making a personal plea. It worked! Soon we had folks lined up to be mentors – enough to be assigned to every mentee. Not only did our leaders spread the word, but many other leaders found out what they were doing and joined in. We also got good information and feedback about the program, incorporating their ideas.
3. Communicate more than once using more than one channel. And put more time into face-to-face communications.
I know it’s obvious, but it’s easy to communicate using the channels within our comfort zone. (I’m looking at you, email!) Picking only one channel however probably won’t catch anyone’s attention. By far the best channel for change is face-to-face communication. The bigger the change, the more face-to-face communication you’ll need.
I was working at a company that went bankrupt and then got bought. You can imagine the communication needed for that effort – lots of meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. The CEO conducted monthly meetings. Senior leaders met. Senior leaders met with managers. Department heads met with departments. Managers met with employees.
But that wasn’t the only channel. We used our intranet to provide information as well as enabled people to ask anonymous questions. Our intranet news area kept employees up-to-date. Emails were also sent, linking to the website where they could learn more info. We even had emails and webpages printed in our break rooms.
It was hard not to know what was happening.
4. Enlist managers and survey employees.
Have you ever played the telephone game? It’s the one where you tell something to someone who tells it to someone else who then passes that information on. It’s like that in cascading information from managers to employees, isn’t it?
I’ve been a manager, too, and have been asked to communicate information. It’s tough. There’s a lot going on. Even the best managers can’t help but have communication issues.
Here’s a tip I also learned the hard way: after requesting information be cascaded from managers to employees, follow up with those employees. I sent electronic surveys and then talked to employees to ensure that they were getting the right message. If employees didn’t know the information or got the wrong information, I’d follow up with that manager and discuss it more. After all, maybe the manager didn’t understand, or perhaps I made a mistake. Managers shouldn’t be punished. In this case, they just need more communication.
So, why enlist managers at all? Employees want information, especially hard changes, to come from managers. They trust their managers, they connect with their managers, and direct one-on-one communication is the best. Trust me, managers may complain, but they want to be enlisted. They may not like bad news, but they want to be the ones to deliver it; they don’t want their employees to get an impersonal email or have HR deliver bad news. Besides, asking them to help communicate that change gets them on board. Instead of having change happen to them, they can be part of making the change happen.
5. Embrace fun when and where you can.
Not every change that needs to be communicated is fun. But when it can be fun, embrace it. Enjoy!
At one company, employees updated information anytime there was a change. If someone was promoted, got a new desk phone, received a certification – whatever – he needed to complete a quick form on the intranet. We understood it was an aggravation, so we created a fun marketing campaign. We ran ads on our intranet’s home page that were goofy, telling people to update their information. We sent silly emails when we knew an update needed to be made, such as after a promotion.
It worked. The web stats for those ads on the home page were through the roof; people shared these ads with each other. People tracked me down to congratulate me when an especially funny one was on the website. Best of all, people updated their information.
What are your tips?
Do you have any hard-won ideas or thoughts to share? We’d like to hear it here at ElevatePoint. Share them with us.
You may even be featured here on our website.We have an ideation area, where employees can submit ideas and vote on them. We also provide anonymous discussions that can be moderated.