Sometimes the role is confusing… Sometimes we mess up… Sometimes our communications fail… Sometimes we get it right… Sometimes we just don’t know… Sometimes we communicate late… Sometimes we are amazed that we can juggle it all!
I’ve been amazed by the number of conversations I’ve had with clients, colleagues and more, who think that change management is just about communications. Please understand there’s more to it than just telling people what is going on!
I want to tell you a short story here. Around 9 years I was approached to undertake an engagement with a grocery chain. However, whether the fault of the company, hiring manager or HR person I was speaking with, there was a lack of understanding about the role. I was repeatedly asked if I’d come in and tell people about the change and make sure they do it. Now the first time I was contacted, I explored the words with he HR person, but effectively they thought my role would be to be the messenger of the change, so the leadership didn’t have to be, and my purpose was to make sure all staff complied. I was horrified! And when 3 months later the same company contacted me with the same request, I had the response ready, a short sharp “NO”.
I reflect on this situation many times and hear of many colleagues having similar conversations with potential employers and clients and it worries me. Understanding that there is more to enabling change than communications is huge for many people, but realizing that the communications element, which I readily admit is fundamental to the success of sustained change, is more than telling, is vital for them to understand the need of change management professionals.
I’m not a conformist in my approaches to supporting change, but there are simple things to consider when communicating about a change and these are so often overlooked. I want to just give a few tips from my experience that should help:
- KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid. I have worked with many organizations and I find that with all those entities they love a good acronym. So many acronyms, there could be dictionaries devoted to them! Avoid the use of acronyms where possible or at least explain them – not everyone knows what you know.
- Concise messages. Don’t write a book in an email. We have all fallen into this misconception that email is a time effective method of communications. Well, guess what, that’s not always the case! If you have that much content, demonstrate your leadership, confidence and capacity to engage with people and have a face-to-face conversation! If I see another manger spend an hour writing an email, followed by 2 hours of CC all replies ending up with an in person meeting, I shall have to temper my urge to scream at them why didn’t you do that in the first place!
- Transparency & Timing. Too many people feel they cannot say anything about a change until they know everything. I’ve news for you, you will never know everything! All this achieves is a space for rumour, gossip and untruths to formulate with people, while they wait for the truth and then we spend way too long undoing all these falsehoods. Of course the real reason for this arising is the avoidance of difficult conversations. My experience says that people respect early notification of change in preference to late notice. There will be challenging questions presented with either option but the early deal is far easier to manage than the late response.
I have a final response to my tips and its simply saying you don’t know when you don’t know. Its ok to have that response! It may be uncomfortable, but it gains valuable respect from people when you are open about your lack of knowledge. It will also let you gain insight into the focus of their thoughts so you can prepare what needs to be said next time!
As I close this post, I just wanted to acknowledge that this is being published outside the 3 month window for the communications theme of the change blog challenge! Sometimes we don’t manage to communicate on time, but we reflect that it has no detrimental effect on the outcomes, so its OK! I decided that applied for this content!
This article is part of the 2019 #ChangeBlogChallenge on the topic of Change Resistance in Quarter 2. Click here to see what other change thinkers say about this topic.