Communication of change : tell it in 7 different ways

Change: tell it in 7 different ways

september 1st, 2016 Posted by change processes, communication, leadership, storytelling No Comment yet

A common mistake, made during change projects is that leaders assume that the reason for change is logical and explanation of change is, therefore, unnecessary. This assumption stems from the knowledge that certain awareness of developments within the market is present amongst stakeholders or because employees talk about related issues within the company. The assumption that often follows is that stakeholder’s support for change is already present ( for everyone understands the market conditions, right?). But nothing is self-explanatory and such assumptions are dangerous ones to make.

If you, as a leader, ignore the human need people have to “understand” decisions, you will risk being perceived as an arrogant and dominant leader. Resistance within the company and a detriment of corporate loyalty will be a logical consequence of that. Down the line, the resistance of your employees will endanger the change process greatly. Without committed employees, a successful implementation of change will simply be impossible.

In order to gain acceptance amongst your stakeholders, you will need to create a meaningful story with a focus on both the rational and the emotional elements of the change. But a meaningful story is not the only ingredient you will use if you want to succeed: timing, patience, repetition and adapting the message to specific target groups are other crucial elements of successful communication of change. In this article, we will focus on one specific: repetition.

The 7 times marketing rule

One of the eldest marketing theories known to marketers is that consumers (people) have to hear a message at least 7 times before they start processing the message more consciously. The reason why this theory is based on the number 7 is unknown, although it is speculated by many that the number was chosen due to its cultural value. However, at the heart of the theory is not a number but a message; awareness is created through the power of repetition and the consistency of your message.

This rule also applies to processes of change, stakeholders will never simply accept a change because we tell them to. Repetition is needed to gain the trust of every stakeholder. Be aware that you will ask them to let go of something they know and trust without knowing what they will get in return.

We believe that the theory of 7 was meant as more than just a lesson on repetition, we also believe it applies to the way you tell your story. There is a great value to be found in a multidisciplinary approach. No purely analytical messages anymore but 7 different ways to convey your message and make a true change.

The skilled storyteller

Human behaviour is mostly emotionally driven. This means that purpose is given through the use of emotional cues that respond to the way stakeholders perceive the world. Second, the ratio of stakeholders is addressed by using analytics. Both are essential if you want to successfully implement change.

The most effective leaders during times of change are skilled storytellers. They are focused on incorporating both the rational and emotional cues into their change communications. The end result is a coherent story, shared in different ways with all stakeholders of the organisation and giving meaning to change.

Skilled storytellers make sure that messages of change are communicated in a comprehensible manner. In order to do so, they categorise and analyse stakeholder groups and then adapt their message to each of those groups. In addition to a tailored story, they use influencers within the organisation to bring the story and to promote change. A seasoned leader will know that these influencers aren’t always the people with power based on their titles, but can also be employees with powerful personalities or keepers of important information. He never forgets to convince those influencers on the value of (or necessity) change.

How could you convey a message of change in different ways?

Bringing a message of change means tailoring the message to fit the audience (specific stakeholder group(s)), stage of acceptance, the exact moment within the change process, the change itself and to the available tools one can use. What is of utmost importance for one group can be a futility for the next. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” message.

A sufficient amount of time needs to be reserved for mapping the interests of stakeholders. This can be achieved by conducting quantitive research (surveys) and by qualitative research (talking to managers of different departments and influencers within the company. They usually know what their team members feel strongly about.) Keep in mind that you want to inspire, teach and ratify your message. If your company fails to succeed in doing so, you will be confronted with employees that aren’t in agreement with each other down the line.

There are often many resources available to repeat, educate and inspire your employees during times of change. Here are just some ideas you could use:

1. Desktop alerts and screensavers

In most cases, your employees have a desktop, laptop or IPad connected to the corporate servers. This makes it fairly simple to place alerts (pop-ups) or screensavers on the devices of your employees and attract their attention. These two mediums are visual and suitable to address the positive aspects of change.

2. Video

Use your internal digital signage to report about the progress of change, make sure to adapt each message to your audience.

3. Corporate magazine

Use your corporate magazine and-or Sharepoint to share the messages of your influencers. Use articles or interviews to let them tell other employees how they perceive the changes and how it will affect the way they work (in a positive but realistic manner)in the near future or even the present day.

4. Booklet

If you really want to become creative, design a book with visuals that explains the reason for the change, why this specific route has been chosen and what the ultimate goal is. You can also choose to address how the changes will affect stakeholders and what would happen if the change would not take place. Make sure the booklet remains visually appealing, transparent and concise.

5. Discussion forum

Within larger companies, it is impossible to discuss everything in general meetings. Also, managers often run into similar problems in different locations around the world. A forum can help share ideas, spread solutions and resolve bottlenecks within processes.

6. Specials

Use specials to inform managers about certain processes before their team members hear about them. Give them pointers on how to inform their team and how to answer specific questions about the next steps to be taken. This will reduce tension and it will show them how changes will affect their team members directly, making their jobs easier in the long run.

7. Stimulate face-to-face communications

When in times of change, it is even more important that the standard bearers of your organisation will show their human side and act as a bridge between employees of all levels. This can be achieved by letting them speak in front of large and small groups of stakeholders and have them explain their choice process that has led to change in a personal way, showing their engagement with the workforce. It is also advisable to let them blog about the changes and challenges they encounter in their work life. Never solely focus on the changes but find time to show employees what won’t change to comfort and reassure them.

Ask all managers to motivate their team members to ask questions and to voice their concerns before, during and after meetings with them. Make sure they report all information back to the people who are responsible for communications so they can further tailor messages based on their intel.

8. Conduct research

Quality and quantity research are needed to ensure that stakeholders understand the reason for change correctly: do they accept the messages you send them, are there any concerns you need to address but also to see if they are coached well by their managers. Not only does it offer valuable information, it is also another opportunity to tell your story again.

9. Central helpdesk

A temporary helpdesk with a knowledge centre can be of great assistance during times of change. It will give you an extra medium to help you coach your employees through the changes. The helpdesk can be available online (through the creation of an internal Wikipedia or via WhatsApp) and offline (by phone). Employees can contact the helpdesk whenever they have quick questions about changed workflows or new systems. Installing a helpdesk shows you came prepared and that you are devoted to your employees and to the change.

10. Celebrations

Decorate the office, place (non-alcoholic) champagne at coffee corners, give them a pie or serve something special in the cafeteria (your treat), place presents or personal thank you cards on every desk or surprise productive employees with something personal to celebrate and acknowledge their efforts. Not only will it help them feel appreciated for their willingness to help the company, it will also emphasise that progress is being made. Always seize the opportunity to tell someone why their contribution matters or why a certain milestone is important to the company.

9. Posters

Use posters and such in bathrooms and hallways to support new values or workflows within the company. While the bathroom might not be the sexiest place in the office, it is one of the most valuable places to communicate at (for your employees will visit the bathroom several times a day). Accentuate one aspect of change at the time to ensure people really focus.

10. Workshops or teambuilding activities

Bigger changes affect teams, it changes departmental structures and/or the way they operate. Insecurities often arise when routines are broken. By using workshops and teambuilding activities, you can ease them into new work methods and eliminate some of their insecurities.

11. VR

A new building, bullpens and new systems can all be made tangible with the help of VR. Most people struggle with the visualisation of change. VR helps translate concepts to images, which helps them to process and accept changes.

12. Corporate games

If you decide to implement a new system, the transition can be smoothed by using corporate games for practice. In a digital environment, employees can get acquainted with new systems without the fear of making mistakes and without them feeling pressured. This will decrease stress levels after the implementation and at the same time accelerates the acceptance of new work habits.

13. Hackathons

Hackathons are perfect when you would like your employees to focus more, if you want to boost innovation within a change process or if you are looking to change behaviour.
Hackathons are a great way to have employees accept change and to strengthen the sense of being part of a community because all employees work together to find solutions for the most important issues within the company (think of product innovation, improving efficiency or extending your product line).

Would you like to know which resources are a good fit for your process of change? The best way to communicate change depends on your corporate culture, budget, timeframe, the size of your organisation and your stakeholders. Let’s discuss the possibilities when we meet. Contact us here to set up an appointment.

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Marketing and Communication Specialist at TAS - Tells a Story
Maike van Oyen is a mother, friend, sister, daughter and dedicated communications and marketing specialist on the side. She has written many articles for several websites in both Dutch and English about Corporate Communications, Marketing, Change Management and HR.

Maike loves to sink her teeth into complex projects of change and has a good knowledge of communication on a strategical, tactical and an operational level. She is trained to work in hectic environments (she manages to write blogs while also doing the housework, watching 4 misguided missiles and working for TAS at the same time). And is used to finding creative solutions for every challenge.
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