Practical advice for better change work

In this final section, we will present some more hands-on advice on how to optimize change work in an organization. We have dealt up the advice into five areas:

  • • the role of the communication professionals
  • • different actors'/stakeholders’ roles
  • • content and message
  • • channels and methods
  • • communication planning.

Under each heading next, we will present a number of different ways that you

can proceed.

The role of the communication professionals

One of the most important factors for successful change communication is the

role that the communication per se plays. Consider the following advice:

  • Communication should drive, not only explain, the change. The organization that wants to create change cannot cascade the information and awareness of strategies down from management. Do not fall into the trap of merely informing about what is going on in the change initiative or on the results after the implementation is done. Instead, use communication to implement the change.
  • Transparency and speed are key. Transparency and speed need to take a central role when driving change with communication. Information is unfortunately still seen as being "in power” in a number of organizations and for certain managers. Silence or inadequate information (see “mushroom management" earlier) often leads to worry, speculation and rumors amongst coworkers. Avoid the mistake of believing that the coworkers cannot understand or place time on finding answers to their questions about what is going on from someone other than their own manager. This has a high price, as it takes time away from their actual work.
  • Change work is a core competence - invest in training. View knowledge about change work and communication as key competencies in the organization and for the communication professionals. Educate, discuss, involve and work broadly across different functions when you want to change something. Note that there is often a need for a broader understanding of communication related to change work than what is usually the case. There are many models and theories, some outdated, that form the basis for the usual change training that actually takes place in many organizations. The range of experts and consultants in change management is large and sometimes complex to review.
  • Have realistic expecta tions and a budget for communication. Communicating and implementing change takes more time and is harder than most expect. Therefore, you need to have realistic expectations and ensure that there are sufficient resources, both in the form of communication professionals and other change leaders with the right skills and mandate for different communications efforts. Quick solutions rarely work, and change communication requires a budget.

36 Communicating strategy and change

Different actors'/stakeholders' roles

Several different actors/individuals need to be dedicated and involved in the process if a planned change is to be successfully implemented. Consider the following advice:

  • Functionary managers. Ensure good cooperation across functions. Change and implementation strategies are important issues in most organizations, and initiatives are often taken by top management. Many parties want to be involved and drive the change, and many think that they know what should be done - both internal and external resources, such as leadership and change management consultants. Often, better cooperation is needed between various internal functions, with leadership and different project groups (and the external resources that are involved), and, in particular, with internal communication. In other words, avoid silo thinking, let go of prestige, and put the interests of the business in focus.
  • Project and change managers. Change work is often handled like a project, and the project manager’s view of the role of communication has a major impact on whether or not there is a change. Unfortunately, communication is often reduced to informing about the results of the project once everything is finished. Evaluate your project model and the role of project managers in your organization and ensure that communication is effectively integrated (see the section on project and change work).
  • The communication professionals. Many communication professionals are reduced to news producers and writers - even in projects and change work. In order to drive change with communication, communication professionals need to be involved from start to finish, and need to have a relevant role and tasks. Coming in when everything is nearly finished is not enough, as it is usually too late to make a difference at that point. A strategic internal communicator with the right skills, mandate and resources has exactly the tools that many organizations need to implement change.
  • Management. Management needs to be persistent and continue to talk to coworkers about the change until it has been successfully implemented, even though they may already be in the middle of the next change initiative. Otherwise, you run the risk of decreased coworker engagement.

Content and message

An important part of change communication is having well-thought-through content and messaging. Consider the following advice:

  • Create overview and context. It is fairly common for several change initiatives to be ongoing simultaneously (see multi-change as discussed earlier in the chapter). Internal communication can help to create an overview and facilitate understanding of how the changes are connected and make them more understandable and meaningful. Keep in mind that it is not only questions considered by leadership that can be perceived as change initiatives. Sometimes, the strategies and changes of other units (IT, HR etc.) can affect more people - and ways of work - than can the questions driven by top management.
  • Avoid watered-down messages and dare to openly criticize. Avoid talking only about the good parts of organizational change. Coworkers need to be able to see themselves in the description of the change and dare to talk about the underlying problems and challenges. There has to be room for coworkers to openly criticize what they are unhappy with or do not understand.
  • More feelings! Many organizations and leaders communicate in a rational, reasonable and bureaucratic way. They use figures, graphs, rational arguments and "hard facts.” Communication suffers from what Alvesson and Sveningsson call symbolic anorexia, which proves to be a problem when implementing change.46 In order to create enthusiasm, interest and vigor in the organization, communication needs to be marked by messages that appeal to peoples’ emotions.

Channels and methods

Driving and implementing change is often complex and requires knowing which

channels and methods are the most effective. Consider the following advice:

  • More dialogue to create a shared picture - and to create new behaviors. A clear, shared picture of what the change is about is needed to successfully implement change. Why are we doing this? What will it lead to? The more people who have a shared picture of what will be achieved, the more likely it is to actually happen. In this case, it is important not to settle for merely fast, mechanical methods, such as an article on the intranet. The common picture should be created through dialogue. This is extra important when considering cultural changes and values. Focus has to be on the content rather than on simply talking about the new value words, and the starting point for the dialogue needs to be the coworkers' experiences of the organization's challenges and needs.
  • Meaning of the event. It is usually said that leadership is like parenting: the important thing is not what the manager/parents says, but instead it is what they do. It is especially important that leaders “practice what they preach” during times of change. If, for example, management has announced budget cuts, meaning that the annual Christmas party will be smaller and meals out will be replaced by potlucks in the office, then it is especially important that management does not go out to eat at the most expensive restaurants in town.

Communication planning

Lack of internal communication is a common reason for changes not being fully implemented or taking unnecessarily long to implement. Develop a communications plan that takes both the different phases of change work and the reaction curve into account (see Figure 6). Consider the following advice:

  • • The reaction curve describes how people often react when they are exposed to change. All people react differently and with varying intensity, but most people go through the whole course of the curve, and for some this journey of moving to accept the change may be faster than others - the way you communicate will of course influence both intensity and the time it takes to be ready to adapt the change and contribute.
  • • It is important that organizations know why the change is needed before they begin implementation. It should also be clear what the consequences are if the change does not go through. These messages need to be simple and clear, and communicated through a mix of channels, both oral and written, to increase understanding.
  • • It is important to repeat the most important messages about what, why, when and how once the change work is underway. At this stage, many in the organization have probably gone past the initial, perhaps strong reactions and begun to understand what the change is about. It is important to create room for dialogue and not least for reactions and possible criticism.
The reaction curve and change phases

Figure 6 The reaction curve and change phases.

Communicating strategy and change 39

  • • A change initiative can take quite a long time, often up to several years, and keeping commitment at a high level throughout the whole process is often a challenge. By regularly describing how far we have come in the process, encouraging progress, and honestly describing challenges along the way, you can maintain interest and ambition to see the change through. It is also important to show understanding for those who have yet to jump on the bandwagon through more dialogue and creating more opportunities for increased understanding.
  • • When you finally begin to approach the end of change implementation, it is important to clearly end the process. Give affirmation, highlight good examples, present lessons learned and allow everyone to be satisfied and happy, at least for a while, until it is time to embark on the next change.
  • • Finally, do not be a slave to your communications plan. Be responsive to reactions and flexible to adapt and change your plan, due to unforeseen obstacles or new opportunities.
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