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Change Communications, Explained

“Change cannot be put on people. The best way to instill change is to do
it with them.
Create it with them.” - Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink

As humans, we resist change. It’s in our nature to seek comfort and security. Any disruption to our way of doing or being is scary, even threatening. 

So, when a digital transformation is coming, how do you make sure your colleagues understand and adopt the changes that need to be made? How do you keep this major investment from being a total flop? You talk to every person, at every level, every step of the way.

Change communications are the mediums and messages used to convey information about transformation to those who will be impacted. Often, you’ll be talking to employees and any external partners you work with every day. Depending on the scope of change, you may need to let your customers know as well.

Notably, few organizations communicate change well. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, “only 38 percent of employees who have experienced workplace transformation say that their employer communicated effectively about the changes, and only 36 percent say their employers were honest about changes employees would face.”

Now’s your time to get this right. Check out the tips below to learn how. 

Use Change Communications To ...

Since people will push back on anything that disrupts the status quo -- it’s only natural, after all -- the goal of change communications is to get ahead of this resistance. Sending the right message to the right people at the right time throughout your transformation helps bring them along and feel some ownership of all the change that’s out of their control. 

Create a change communications plan to: 

  • Build awareness of the need for change
  • Empower colleagues to understand and embrace the change
  • Establish your organization’s trust in the envisioned change

Tips for Effectively Communicating Change

Here are some things to keep in mind as you communicate with employees and other key stakeholders before, during, and after your digital transformation project. 

Before: Envision & Prepare

The mantra “communicate early and often” is especially important when communicating about change. People fear what they don’t know. Use this to your advantage by sharing a steady flow of information about your project -- even before it begins. 

  • Put senior leaders front and center. When it comes to workplace transformation, employees want to hear what’s happening from the top leaders. They want to know straight from the horse’s mouth what change is coming and how it will impact them. Your senior leaders need to be regularly sharing updates about the transformation process, serving as the face of these efforts. 
  • Develop targeted, customizable messaging. Some will be early adopters of change. Others will be skeptical from the get-go. Most will fall somewhere in between. You will need to clearly articulate to all of them the value and impact of the project, in a way that they will hear and understand. Start by coming up with a set of core messages that explain the 5 Ws of your transformation effort. Then, use Prosci’s change communication checklist to make sure your communications plan addresses the top 10 questions employees will want answered during this process. 
  • Share a vision for the future. Perhaps the most important question employees want answered is “what does this mean for me?” One way to get the ball rolling is by introducing an idea of what your future-state organization will look like. All other communications should build on this vision, helping connect the dots for your colleagues. 

During: Activate & Engage

We often refer to your digital transformation as a “journey.” You will face twists and turns, highs and lows throughout this process. While you don’t have to share every adventure with your stakeholders, it’s important to let them in on any major events or insights that highlight again and again why this change is happening, when it’s coming, and what it means for them.

  • Meet people where they are. Sure, you may know all the technology inside and out. Maybe you can describe the entire stack and how each tool connects without blinking an eye. But, most of your colleagues cannot. Make sure you keep your language simple and choose a medium that matches your message.

Pro tip: Most people prefer face-to-face communication when it comes to hearing about change. Town halls, team meetings, short videos, and webinars are all great ways to convey news about your transformation. Just have a couple quick updates to share? Try an email or post to your intranet. 

  • Listen, listen, listen. No one likes feeling left out or behind. You can get ahead of your colleagues’ FOMO by giving them plenty of opportunities to chime in about what they want, need, and expect. Ask for feedback. Host small group listening sessions with leaders. Set up a form or email for people to submit their thoughts and questions. You can get creative here! And, make sure you address any questions either directly or in future communications. 

  • Engage managers and champions. Digital transformation projects can take a long time to fully bring to fruition. How do you keep everyone excited and engaged while the work is progressing? Lean on managers and change “champions” who are all-in and enthusiastic about what’s to come.

      • Managers are seen as trusted sources of information and can help to dispel any myths or misconceptions floating around. Make sure they have all the latest information on project progress and what it means for their direct reports and the organization.

      • You can identify champions among your colleagues that are likely to be early adopters of the change. People tend to trust peers like them who understand their experience and can be open and honest with them. You’ll want to keep champions engaged and informed for any conversations with their colleagues. Consider offering them early access to prototypes or tools so they can try them out and offer honest feedback from the perspective of a regular employee. 
                                        •  

After: Celebrate & Reflect

You’ve spent months (or maybe years!) pouring your heart and soul into new tools and processes to make your organization better. You’re now ready to unleash them to the world. It’s time to sit back, bask in the glory, and let the reviews roll in. 

  • Enjoy the moment! Seriously. You earned it. You all earned it. Throw a launch party to celebrate your new way of working with the entire organization. Find fun ways for people to learn about and use the tools and processes they can now find at their fingertips. The funny thing about change is, while we definitely are afraid of it, we also love having bright, shiny new things to explore. So, let everyone enjoy and explore! And for everyone who worked tirelessly to bring this to life, maybe take a vacation.
     
  • Bring on the reviews. Some people will love the change. Some people will not. You can’t please everyone, but you can pretty quickly sense if your change is working or not. Encourage people to let you know how they feel about the transformation. Lean on some of the tactics you used to gather feedback throughout the process so you can discern any noticeable changes. Perhaps send out a survey a few weeks post-launch to get a gut-check, giving people time to digest and explore. Use this as a moment to share in the celebration while also getting a read on the general reception.

  • Iterate and evolve. Of course, once you’ve taken a beat and the glow of launch has worn off, it’s time to dive right on back in and make your new system better. The pace of technology waits for no man. There will always be bugs to fix, upgrades to install, and improvements to the user experience you may not have even imagined before. Continue to communicate with and listen to your colleagues and find ways to make things better. The backlog isn’t going to fill itself.

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