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Author: Gregg Brown, M.Sc, CTDP, PMP

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.

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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

So you want to be a speaker?

So you want to be a speaker! Speaking in front of a large audience is different than facilitating a workshop, or leading a small group for an hour in an event like a track session.

I know from experience, that making that transition is not easy. You will stumble occasionally, but each time you will get better if you learn from each session you do! We are all learning and we can all improve – just like I can. While this isn’t a comprehensive list on how to do a keynote, this will get you started or help you improve what you already have.

Below we have listed a simple acronym that outlines 6 SMARTE principles you may want to consider, if you would like to be a speaker.

S – Stories – Use them, limit them and make them relevant.

It is necessary when speaking that you use stories, anecdotes and examples that are meaningful to the audience and relevant to the content. Too often speakers go on with long winded stories about their personal experience. That’s the last thing a conference organizer wants to hear! Gear your stories towards what the audience needs to know. Begin with an assessment of those needs. As you are developing your speaking notes, keep the session focused on the audience. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes and think from their perspective ‘can they relate to this story?’. After you have set the context of the story, you need to make the point, then tie that into how the audience can use that point. Otherwise they are kept hanging. Make sure you offer variety – as telling stories just about yourself can seem very one sided. Include short anecdotes and stories about others – including clients, colleagues to illustrate a point. Often people will start planning their speech with ‘what do I want to tell them’ and your speech will then turn into a one way lecture – and that is not a keynote. Stories should support your content, be short, precise and relatable by the audience.

M – Motivation – Understand this!

In a keynote, when you are guiding a large audience on a journey, you have to find the balance of including something motivational within your content, so people can aspire to do or be something different. Your audience needs to know how the information is going to be useful. Why does the audience member need to know this information? What benefit will it have for them at work? Why have they decided to attend this session? Why is this session relevant to them? As you are developing your speaking script or notes, determining the rationale, benefits and reasons why an individual should attend this session will encourage the participants’ buy-in. During a keynote, adults need to be actively involved in the session or they won’t be motivated to apply your take-aways. A recommendation is to request a pre-call with your conference organizer prior to the session, to ensure you can tailor your message to the conference audience.

A – Audience Centred – Keep it focused on them.

A speaker can lecture for an hour and cram in a lot of content– but I can guarantee most people still need to do something with that information to apply it. Additionally, facilitating games or activities that are unrelated to content can be inappropriate, a waste of time for the participant, and a waste of money for the organizer! Activities such as case studies, real work simulations, examples, questions or games that put individuals into work-related roles or teams can enhance their experience. Using simple activities such as “Turn to your neighbor take 30 seconds to discuss the most important ‘nugget’ you heard in the last 10 minutes” can keep your audience engaged.

Adults thrive when listening to content that builds on their own experience; content they can relate to and contribute to. While this may mean that not all individuals are comfortable with what they are hearing, our goal as speakers is to stretch the audience outside of their comfort zones – but not too much – so that they can’t connect the dots between the content and their experience. They need to be able to see themselves doing it and aspire to it! Check with your event organizer around what is appropriate and what works with the audience. They will know often better than anyone.

R – Reinforce your content and prioritize

You know a lot about your topic or you wouldn’t want to speak about it. Because you know so much, you’ll be tempted to include EVERYTHING. First rule is DON’T! Prioritize what people need to know and what is nice to know. Check in with your event organizer. Run the key points by him or her. We all absorb information differently. Some of us are more auditory, visual or kinaesthetic or a combination! Ensure your ‘need to know’ points are delivered verbally and have visuals such as a handouts, clear power point slides (not filled with text) or flipcharts to back it up. Telling people your point doesn’t work in a keynote. Telling them the point numerous times doesn’t work either-contrary to popular belief! You will sound repetitive. You need to be able to build the content so the point flows out of a story, anecdote, experience or research. If there is anything people can hold, build or discuss, be sure to include. Follow up with a community of practice portal or and a dynamic website as it allows people the freedom and time to use the knowledge you’ve shared in real life.

T – Transfer of your knowledge to the audience workplace

The audience wants to apply the new knowledge from your session to their workplace. Or they wouldn’t be there! Ask specific, probing questions to elicit responses that demonstrate the linkage of content to work. The audience can answer them ‘in their head’ or in pairs. The knowledge you want to share has to be transferable to their experience. Don’t assume the audience will do that without your help. Work with the conference organizer to incorporate language, examples and case studies into your talk. You can illustrate your content by giving simple examples or complex case studies and questions that force participants to create those linkages. Have them solve a short problem that’s related to your content in their head or with a partner. Show them how to solve a problem using your knowledge. Write down insights or take-aways. If they can’t relate your content to their work lives, they won’t find your knowledge relevant to their experience.

E – Environment – You create the tone of your session.

What environment do you want to create as part of your talk? Will it be more formal and research based? Will it be casual and safe to listen and learn? What is the audience like?

Is the atmosphere of the conference and the audience professional or casual? You may have no choice over the physical space of a room. However, you want to get into the room before your session to get a feel for how it will work with your session. Where you will stand and how you will move given the constraints of the physical environment?

The look and feel of your slides, how you dress, the language you use should be reflective of the audience. Don’t get up in a suit on stage and look like a consultant if the audience is more casual. You need to be relatable. Check with the conference organizer before your session when you can get into the room to check the environment. I’ve never known one to refuse, as they want you to be a success as much as you do!

These are some key principles of being an engaging and effective speaker. Use the SMARTE acronym as a checklist while you are developing your session. While many other factors need to be considered, such as the structure and flow of your keynote, using these SMARTE principles will measurably increase your chances of success.

This is Change: Compassion, Losses, and Gains

First off, as business analysts and project managers, I believe you are all leaders regardless of your job title, so keep that in mind as your read through this article.

When leaders, such as you, are confronted with executing change in the workplace, you are frequently looking at a difficult task. Staff can get confused, angry, distracted, stressed-out or afraid for their jobs, all of which can bring about decreased performance and lowered morale. How can a leader effectively actualize change while still maintaining employee productivity and motivation?

In order to re-establish productivity, balance, and profitability, leaders require a specific strategy. Supporting people through change must include techniques along with practical tools that a leader can apply to present or future changes in their workplace.

Related Article: From the Sponsor’s Desk: The 4 Pillars of Successful Change Management

So, how can you assist workers during change, particularly when you can’t slow down, stop what’s going on, or give them a chance to get settled at their own pace?

Here are some important approaches to support your colleagues through change:


Yes, compassion! I know it sounds weird at work but stay with me. To start with, remember your own reaction when you first heard about the change and were seeking answers concerning the change. If the change impacted you positively, you might have accepted the change – yet most likely you still would’ve experienced some uncertainty.

If you perceived the change as negative, you may have been anxious, angry, or confused and experienced a range of other emotions your colleagues are currently encountering. It’s easy to forget that not everyone has had the time you had to understand the change. You are often discussing the change with your colleagues a couple of days, weeks or months after you first heard it AND after you’ve dealt with the change yourself. They may be hearing it for the first time.

When you’re planning to talk with your co-workers about a change, recalling your initial response can help you be more understanding of their challenges with the change, and to put proper avenues in place to help them adapt to the change. If appropriate, tell them your experiences and remember – not everyone has had the time you have, to process this change.


Before you discuss the change with your colleagues, consider what will specifically change. What would your colleagues say they must relinquish doing, having or saying? For instance, when you are developing a new process, your co-workers may need to stop simply planning with a couple individuals, or thinking only about their part of the organization. If the new approach is designed to be more strategic and integrated, people will need to build new relationships and learn about other business units. People will have to step out of their comfort zone – the place that is easy and natural to be in. But for most people, when they need to change their behaviour, it’s hard; you have to give up something. It could be time, productivity, relationships or any other issue. When you understand this, it will make it simpler for you as the change agent to be more patient – and just as importantly, to facilitate that discussion.


It’s likewise helpful to consider what’s new. What do your colleagues need to start doing that they have not done before? For instance, some changes may be procedural: incorporating new stakeholders in a planning meeting. Other changes may require additional skill development or new ways of thinking. If part of a new process includes how that process is going to influence and be used by the entire organization, they may have to learn new skills of collaborative negotiation, influence and strategic thinking to be effective in implementing the change. This doesn’t happen overnight. All of us require time to adapt to the change. Be specific about what will be new. What do you want people to think, feel, behave and do following the change. If you can’t see the end result– no one can!

Join Gregg at Project World * BA World – Toronto – May 9-12, 2016 where he will be a keynote speaker – Building Leadership Resilience: 5 Strategies for Business Analysts & Project Managers to Increase Their Effectiveness During Change