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8 steps to successful change communication

If you want to change your organization, you should implement strong change communication. The same basics apply here as for classical communication:

  • Tailored to the recipient
  • Emotionally stimulating
  • Well structured
  • Simple

Nevertheless, change communication is different from daily internal and external communication. The main difference is certainly that it supports am initiative with a clear beginning and end, and that it usually involves different parts of the organization across silos. The next point is certainly the need to help employees embrace the change. Dealing with resistance and motivating those affected is also an important change communication task. Important project milestones will need to be supported by good communication activities. And you will need to ensure that training and workshops are aligned to the communication plan.

So here are the 8 steps to successful change communication:

1. Conduct a Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholders are individuals or groups that have a stake in the transformation. These are people who can either actively influence the change (through resources, strategic input, etc.) or those who are affected by the change. Addressing all relevant stakeholders within the change project is an important success factor.

In the stakeholder analysis, the stakeholder groups and individuals are listed separately, and the communication needs are evaluated from the stakeholder perspective. A distinction is made between personal, informal communication, which is carried out through individual contacts, and official, project communication, which identifies groups as recipients. Depending on how affected and relevant a stakeholder group is, the approach and the involvement differs. We recommend to plan both forms of communication (informal and official) and to assign responsibilities to these activities.

2. Define a Case for Change

Before the change communication has even started, the project team and the project sponsors should define an aligned Case for Change. The aim is to work out why the project is necessary, what benefits will arise for the company and what changes the employees can expect.

In addition to the "Sense of Urgency", a vision for the future should be created that inspires all those involved. The "Case for Change" (aka: the justification for change) is especially important at the beginning of the transformation: its goal is to establish the necessity to change in the minds of all. It is emotional, motivating, catchy, insightful and relevant for everyone.

3. Develop a Consistent Change Story

The Case for Change is the north star of the change. But along the course of the project an arc of tension should be created. The hero's journey (also called storytelling) is a great way of doing this, using symbols, metaphors or other narrative methods. This helps to adapt complex topics to the specific audiences and emotionalize the message.

In the change story, the narrative explains why the change is necessary, how the company must change and what the changed situation will look like for the employees. If possible, the employee should be portrayed as a "hero" who sees the change as an opportunity to solve concrete problems. "What's In It For Me" - is the question that the change story answers simply and appealingly. In this step the Case for Change is broken down, concretized and made tangible.

4. Find a Succinct Project Name and Visualization

In addition to the story, the emotional impact of a project is conveyed by a good and concise project name, coupled with pictures or a logo. Very often, simple names are chosen which are based on what the project does (e.g. "Team Development") or simple, meaningless acronyms are created (T.E. 2.0 - the second Team Development). However, it is much more effective to create meaningful names that emotionalize the project and make it easily memorable.

The project name is the figurehead of the change project both internally and externally. There is a whole range of requirements that must be considered when choosing a project name:

  • Short and concise
  • Positive connotation
  • Corresponding visual language available
  • Internationally applicable

5. Create a Communication Concept

Based on the stakeholder analysis, the case for change, the change story, the project name and the project milestones, a detailed communication concept can be developed, building on the company's existing communication resources.

  • Which communication resources are used internally?
  • What does the company's internal communication strategy look like so far?
  • What other communication goals are being pursued and supported?
  • What communication infrastructure or communication tools are available?

A distinction is made between online and offline measures as well as the individual change phases.

Many different touchpoints facilitate the communication with the various stakeholders. The level of detail of the communication changes over time and is closely aligned with the project and transition milestones. With time a good communication concept becomes more and more concrete, recipient specific and personal. Posters and memorable pictures are good at the beginning of a transformation, but are gradually replaced by concrete blogs, training documents and team workshops.

6. Use Innovative Communication Formats

Communication always seems to be the source of all problems: too little, too much, not relevant, etc. It is difficult a) to reach all relevant stakeholder groups, b) to choose the right media and c) to tailor content to individual needs.

The flood of information must be broken through new and creative communication formats. There are several innovative approaches which together lead to the successful achievement of information and communication objectives. Use all possible channels: everyone informs himself/herself differently. Try to transport factual as well as emotional content and repeat the relevant content.

In recent years, information behavior has changed dramatically: although we have more media (collaboration tools, chats, vlogs, etc.) available, this does not make communication any easier. We must become faster, more interactive, more emotional and to the point!

7. Set up an Agile Communication Plan

Based on the change communication concept, the operative change communication plan is then created. This contains concrete change measures, innovative communication formats, important milestones and concrete deadlines. It is important that the plan is not set in stone but should offer a flexible framework in which agile action can be taken. Experience has shown that resistance that arises in change initiatives must be actively addressed.

During the transformation, problems arise that had been forgotten, underestimated and unexpectedly await. These must be tackled spontaneously and quickly. A good process is necessary here:

  • How do you recognize topics that need to be addressed?
  • How are communication measures created, approved and released?
  • Which communication formats are suitable for agile communication planning?
  • How can employees provide feedback?

8. Measure the Communication Effectiveness

What you can't measure, you can't manage. This slogan also applies to change communication. Many measures should be measured with qualitative and quantitative analysis. Whether focus group, interviews, (online) surveys, KPIs, training feedback, we have many means at our disposal to measure the understanding or buy-in of employees. Even if existing communication cannot always be held responsible for all shortcomings, proactive, agile communication can change the perception and attitude of those concerned.

So regularly measure the success of the transformation. And therefore, measure regularly whether the change communication has had a positive effect on the success of the change project. Learn from mistakes and continuously optimize your change communication. We wish you success!

You want to hear more about it: attend our Change Communication Seminar! Or let us organize a Change Communication Workshop.