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Change Management

6 Practical Ways to Improve Your Communication During a Change (2 of 4)

This is the second of a four-part series on the four essential drivers of long-term value for any organizational transition. This segment reimagines what many change teams rely on others in the company to do…communications. Future articles will cover dealing with opposition and reinforcing change. 

Missed part 1? Read that here: Navigating Change: 6 Questions Every Leader Must Ask During Transition 

The single most important element of transition planning is communications. In my opinion, it is the “make or break” aspect of change that has the strongest correlation to transformation outcomes. 

Ineffective messaging, interactions, feedback, and personnel can neutralize even the best planning and most inspiring change vision. Our second key driver for long-term value is crafting and delivering clear, honest, and frequent interactions that “connect” with your target audiences throughout all stages of the transition. 

A significant portion of your communications planning is dependent on your stakeholder analysis (see first article). Knowing what is important to each role, the channels and modes that best influence them, and desired methods of feedback will arm you with valuable perspectives on which to develop communications that shift attitudes and behaviors. 

At the core of change communications is answering three vital questions in the minds of everyone associated with the upcoming transition: 

  1. How am I impacted? 
  1. Why and when is this happening? 
  1. What do I need to do? 

It’s easy to believe that answering these and communicating effectively isn’t that tough. For some, it isn’t; for the majority of us, it is. Consider the following tips as practical ways to enhance how you compose and deliver exceptional messaging before, during, and after the transition period: 

1. Validate Your Message

Discern how you will know your communications has “stuck.” What type of validation is needed? Plan ahead. Is it understood and embraced? Are you sure? Build in occasional listening tours, employee surveys, town halls with Q&A, and other ways to close the loop on communications. 

2. Consider Head, Heart, Hands

What do you want them to know, feel, and do? One of the best communications tips I’ve ever received is a prompt called Head, Heart, Hands. It applies easily to any type of important interaction, such as a difficult conversation, group presentation, client email, or team Zoom. In preparation for situations such as these, ask “what do I want them to know, what do I want them to feel, and what do I want them to do?” 

3. Determine a Trusted Voice or Gate Keeper

Who is a trusted voice? Determine the best person(s) to influence those who need to change. A reliable “gate keeper” or trusted teammate may be needed as a respected change champion. For example, leverage a clinician to speak to clinicians; employees often trust one of their own. 

4. Remember Repetition and Consistency

Silence is not an option. Even if you don’t have answers, communicate “we are working on next steps” or similar. Your colleagues want to hear from you, so be regular and transparent. Repetition and consistency are your friends. 

5. Provide a Visual

Can you make a primary message a visual? A good thought illustrated trumps a great thought without a visual. Consider various ways people consume and process ideas. Interject metaphors and analogies in a visual delivery to elevate emotion or articulate a complex or potentially unpopular idea. 

6. Listen

Are you really listening? One of the most overlooked communications practices – but vitally important in transformations – is listening. Be intentional about genuinely listening to understand. Empathize appropriately, for we have all experienced change. And don’t fear facing resistance; most of your teammates just want a chance to be heard. 

Simply follow the standard tenets of good two-way communications. Yes, create a change communications plan, but be open to modify it as you interact with stakeholders. Transition is a process, a journey. Ensure agility and flexibility as you guide the organization to the desired destination. 

Gary McClure is a senior consultant at Thrivence, a consulting firm specializing in strategy, leader development, organizational performance, and technology. For more than 15 years, Gary has led organizational transformation initiatives and taught leaders how to navigate successful change. He can be reached at gary.mcclure@thrivence.com.  

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