The role of communication in successful change


Change, particularly large scale change can often feel like an uphill battle for leadership and employees alike.


On the one hand leaders feel like they have put a lot of effort into determing the need and planning the change. For them it is both logical and necessary and they expect that employees will embrace it wholeheartedly. Yet what they are often faced with is resistance and disengagement.


Employees on the otherhand can't make sense of the change, can't see the importance of it and are are overwhelmed by having to make the changes while doing their existing work as well as the impact it might have. This leads to fear and anxiety, reduced productivity and possibly turnover.


How does this happen? Well there are a number of things that can lead to this situation but the one I'm focusing on in this blog is communication.


We all know the importance of communication - the right content, the right context, delivered in the right way. Do this and everyone should 'get it' - right? Yes and No


As a leader we probably assume that if we share a few business facts, outline the impact to the company and highlight the key milestones, that everyone will be onboard and ready to charge ahead.


"The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it's taken place." ~George Bernard Shaw


There are 5 key messages that build change readiness (i.e. readiness to engage in change, readiness to succeed at change along with knowing what to do) and reduce resistance, encourage engagement and maintain or improve productivity. Each of the messages need to be repeatedly addressed as part of the content and context and in multiple ways over multiple times.


What are these 5 key messages? They are: (a) discrepancy; (b) appropriateness; (c) efficacy; (d) principal support; and (e) valence (Armenakis et al., 1993, 1999). That means that in the eyes of your employees and other stakeholders, the change is in fact necessary, the solution proposed is appropriate, the organisation is capable of making the change, there is appropriate support to make the changes and that there is some benefit to them that comes from the change.


The devil is in the details, it's not enough to just say 'this is needed, it is the right solution, you can do it, we're right behind you and you will be better off. Hearts and minds people, hearts and minds.


Whether you believe it or not, getting people ready to change requires, amongst other things, marketing (communication). And in marketing the cardinal rule of advertising, known as “The Seven Times Factor,” says as a general rule that potential target audiences need to see an ad seven times before the marketing begins to register in their awareness.


Do you address the 5 key beliefs in your communication? Do you communicate consistently and repeatedly (minimum 7 times)? Do you use all available tools at your disposal to engage the hearts and minds e.g. storytelling?


Communication is just one of the critical elements of change readiness, if you would like to know more about it or the other elements of change readiness contact me.

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