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Change management strategy must be aided by communication plan

An effective communication plan is critical to change management efforts if the change strategy is to succeed.

Robert Mandeya

Unfortunately, during times of change organisations often develop and execute communications plans without regard for a change management framework or perspective.

Communications serve an important purpose in change management programme and other processes, however change management communications differ from any other communications in significant ways.

Message as change strategy

Oftentimes a communications plan that is not part of a bigger change management approach usually won’t produce positive results toward managing the people side of change.

Effective change management communications must target a particular audience, share why the change is happening, address their specific concerns, and meet the audience where they are in the change process.

The timing, content and sender of the messages are also important during change.

Communication plan

Before you develop the communications plan in a three phased approach it is important to complete the strategic work that takes place in each phase as follows preparing the approach, managing the change and sustaining change.

You can only prepare Approach by assessing your unique situation and defining what a successful future state looks like for your project or initiative.

This strategy work helps you avoid the mistake of creating your communications plan in a vacuum.

The result is a strong situational awareness and appreciation for the specific project risks and challenges.

According the Prosci ADKAR model which I normally apply in my coaching, for people to transition successfully, they must have awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement.

Communications built on this premise are grounded in the fact that organisational changes only happen when each individual adopts and uses the required changes in their day-to-day work.

Focus on target audience

The communications plan must focus on impacted people and teams—those who must adopt and use the change in their work to make the project successful.

This is an important distinction. A communication plan that focuses on “us” usually results in an ineffective command system.

However, when change management guides communication efforts, you shift away from telling employees what a project is doing and toward answering the questions and concerns impacted employees have, which puts the focus on “them.”

Should have specific  intent

The change management communications plan has very specific intent, focus, frequency, methods and senders.

When organisations develop the communications plan without change management, difficulties arise in each of these areas and can sabotage project success.

Communicating for change

When most change teams say they already have a communications plan for project changes, we often find that they have developed a plan to tell others in the organization about their work, their progress and their plans.

But “telling plans” like this usually don’t lead to successful outcomes during change. It is important to align communication with a reliable change management framework.

This approach helps you avoid negative consequences and set up your organisation for change success.

Whilst many project leaders and project managers appreciate the need for communications during change, some mistakenly believe that change management equals effective communications.

To compound the issue, project teams tend to believe that the main messages employees want to hear relate to the project itself, what is happening and when, and that employees want to hear these messages from them.

But when we examine the concept of senders and receivers in communication, it shows how project teams undermine their own changes by communicating the wrong messages through the wrong people.

It also reveals who employees really want to hear from, and how to make these communications work.

Involves  sender,  receiver

Every change can be viewed from the perspective of a sender and a receiver. A sender is anyone providing information about the change.

A receiver is anyone getting information about the change. Senders and receivers often don’t participate in a true dialogue at the onset of a change.

They talk right past one another. What a sender says and what a receiver hears are typically two very different messages.

Imagine a people manager who sits down with an employee to discuss a major organizational restructuring project. The manager shares the information in an enthusiastic and positive way.

She covers all the key messages, including the business reasons for change, the risk of not changing, and the urgency around changing the structure for competitive reasons.

The people manager may even emphasize that this is a challenging and exciting time.

However, when the employee discusses this change at home over dinner, the key messages to their family are often, “I may not have a job” and “The company is having trouble.”

Mandeya is a certified executive leadership coach, corporate education trainer and management consultant and founder of Leadership Institute of Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw/ or info@lird.co.zw, Facebook: @lirdzim and Mobile/WhatsApp: +263 719 466 925

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