Communicating strategically during times of change

We all know communications are important, especially during major change. But the Government has a different context. It’s a context where the very basic communications approach during transformation – of planning, then announcing, then implementing – is not always possible. They have communicated a particular way in the past, and now that has become a habit.

I’m going to share three of my recommended principles on how to communicate more strategically during major transformation.

1) Hit the pause button

A major change has been announced with a chosen deadline – the trickle down has started. What we need to do is pause, SLOW DOWN and enlist the help of experts in key teams: Communications, Enabling Functions, Operations, Strategy. I realize we can’t take all the time in the world, but at least we can take the time to get organized before going further.

It is so critical to get the right people involved because they will help you identify business needs, requirements and outcomes in their area of expertise. This will help us make informed decisions throughout the transformation.

What happens if we don’t take a pause to involve the right people?

We make plans that exclude the people with the most intimate knowledge of the very things we’re changing. So when we implement, we end up reacting to the things that come up that “we didn’t know about” because we didn’t have the right people involved in planning the change.

2) Own the change

Make sure you can explain the change before asking staff to help fill in the details. This is such an important step and often where companies fail.

This is where our key experts are essential. They will help us determine what the future will look like. Some examples of questions that need to be answered:

  • What are the details of our change?
  • Why do we need to change?
  • What will our structure be?
  • What are the impacts and who is most impacted? Staff? Clients – internal and external? Other stakeholders?
  • Will our services change? What will our new service model look like?
  • What are our technology requirements?

Once we define the critical high level pieces, we can speak to our staff as credible leaders with knowledge of where we are headed and concrete plans as to how we will get there. Then we can engage our staff on the day-to-day pieces that are more meaningful to them, like processes and systems.

What happens if we don’t spend the very critical time to define and own the change?

We will go forward with a major change that has major implications on our people, yet we don’t know what that transformation looks like, where it will lead us or how we will get there… and our credibility plummets.

3) Act Strategically

Take the time to create useful communications tools that support your managers and speak to your staff.

At this point, if we’ve applied principles 1 and 2, we have the right people involved; we’ve made informed decisions and defined the major details of the change; now it’s time to lead our people in the best way we can – strategically.

It doesn’t mean communicating what we know as we go or creating a communications plan to execute – it’s making it strategic. Simply stated, making sure the right people have the right information at the right time.

This is our opportunity to ensure the change is understood, supported and reinforced. We need to provide our managers with direction, guidance and a standardized approach so they are communicating the same and correct messages at the same time, and ultimately our staff understands the “what’s in it for me”. Some examples:

  • Communications guide: lay out the story from start to finish in one document and include:
    • Background
    • Context
    • Key drivers
    • Impacts
    • Key dates
    • Predicted Q&A
  • Comprehensive timeline document: include all communications to take place, audience, vehicle, timing, objective, message, responsible, status
  • Communications sessions: plan a session with managers to go over the guide, timeline and any other important documents they need to be comfortable with before speaking about the change with staff. Include role-playing and FAQ in the session.
  • FAQ: include any and all questions that are:
    • Thought of in advance
    • Brought up by managers during the communication session
    • Brought up by staff during subsequent meetings following annuncement
    • Ongoing in the transformation
    • Keep a live version that can be updated and shared with staff through a bulletin, website or other medium available to your team

What happens if we don’t act strategically with our communications?

The entire change is at risk of never being understood. How are managers supposed to lead staff through a major change if they don’t even know why it is happening in the first place? How can they answer questions? Hold staff meetings?  I think we all know what happens: they wing it, which is the worst case scenario. That means staff are hearing different things from different people at different times, which causes rumours, uncertainty and in those cases, the change is never properly understood or accepted.

Conclusion

These three principles are just a few ways you can start to change the way you think about communications now. They play such a crucial role in helping achieve your change objectives – take the time and put in the effort to make sure they speak to your people.   


Jessica is a business consultant with over ten years of experience working in both public and private sectors. Her ability to understand the clients perspective and aptitude for problem solving has led her to deliver transformational communications, change management, process improvement and performance measurement projects. Jessica is part of Systemscope’s Enterprise Renewal team.


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