5 Strategies to Effectively Communicate Change in Uncertain Times
As we know from the last few months, change can happen in an instant. All of us are being called to step into the new vision that is being asked of us.
Those of us fortunate enough to be working, also find we have to ramp up our communication virtually and there’s no single correct way to engage people.
You might find this troubling! Fortunately, there are several approaches you can take to remedy the situation, whether the unique challenges you face are the results of corporate, legislative, mandated, or politically-driven changes.
Here are five key principles to effective change communication that will keep your team and colleagues positive, motivated, and on-board during the process.
These work whether you have direct reports or if you’re on a project trying to influence others to get them engaged in your change.
1. Speak to people, not at them
Real communication is about process, content, and delivery. To help ensure that your colleagues understand your message, avoid using buzzwords and industry jargon. Instead, opt to be honest, specific, and relatable in your language.
Also, only communicate relevant information. If you bog down your communications with a lot of extra, unnecessary content, it could be perceived as just another information dump.
You can deliver your communication verbally, in written form, or both. However you communicate, make sure your messaging is concise and with no ambiguity. Remember, ‘having a meeting’ is not communication!
2. Validate your instincts with data
Your instincts are telling you that your project team isn’t engaged with the change. But without qualitative data to back it up, you can’t devise a strategy to improve the situation.
The best solution to gather the data you need is simple: go out and talk to your colleagues! Track the qualitative feedback you get, and turn it into quantitative data by tracking keywords.
For example, if 7 out of 10 people told you, “I don’t understand why there will be a change,” you can easily determine that 70% of the people you spoke to don’t understand why you’re changing. That’s hard data you can use to come up with a plan to correct this.
3. Have a feedback loop
High-performing organizations provide channels for upward communication. In other words, they use employee input for decision-making.
Ask for feedback to help roll out the change initiative. Include the change targets, and other internal and external stakeholders. Check with other staff to get input. Above all, make sure that the right part of the organization owns the feedback, which might not be the human resources department!
4. Take a proactive approach
You may think you’re solving skepticism among your colleagues by putting a positive spin on the change by saying something like, “Everything will be better in the long run.” This may be a true statement, but it also demonstrates that you’re denying that negativity exists. This could shut down communication.
Putting a positive spin on change creates an environment of false positivity, and could hurt your change and project management strategy before you even begin. Plus, your staff will recognize when they’re being misled, which will cause further acrimony.
You might be surprised to learn that taking a positive approach actually involves embracing the negativity so you can get past it. Have a timed discussion with your team about what they perceive as the negative aspects of the change, and then move to positive action, knowing that the negative sentiment might persist.
5. Create behavioural change with technology
No matter what kind of change your organization is planning, be it process, technical, or organizational, there will be some sort of behavioural change required on the part of your colleagues. Changing people’s behaviours can be difficult, especially if they’ve been doing things the same way for years.
You can use technology to develop simple ways to adjust the team’s behaviour to a way that’s aligned with the change, such as encouraging them to question their own actions every time they log on to their computer. For example, try using a series of screensavers with a short scenario and a question, such as:
- Is this legal?
- Does this follow organizational policy?
- Is this moral or ethical?
- How would my manager feel if they knew?
These scenarios and questions will engage your staff, get them thinking, and create interest in a policy or ethical question. To further feed their interest, link the content of the login screen to a place on your intranet that has more information about the change.
You can also use a login screen to create a “What if?” scenario to increase policy or compliance legislation learning and awareness. For example, ask employees to consider what could happen if there wasn’t a policy about Internet usage within the organization.
Always remember to keep the questions and scenarios quick and to the point. Chances are your people will be logging in first thing in the morning, so by making things simple you won’t be holding them back from starting their day (or having their morning coffee!).
Regardless of your role in your organization and what initiative you are leading, we are all leading alongside our teams during these times.
Pick one or two of the above strategies and start using them and watch the magic happen!
For more on change management and communication, check out Gregg at www.GreggBrown.ca