A universal truth is that effective communication is critical under any mode of operation – it is also crucial to keep stakeholders informed so they don’t feel out of the loop which can completely halt a change initiative’s progress.
Keeping them informed in the right ways helps progress change.
My brother and I have always been close; we’re a couple of years apart in age but we’ve always been best friends and our careers have developed down different, but often parallel tracks.
Throughout life, we’ve always turned to each other to discuss how to handle difficult or contentious situations like:
- “Hey, I’m moving to Canada…how do I tell mum?”
As we’ve grown in our careers, those discussions have increasingly revolved around work-related questions, such as:
- “How do I handle changing things at work, but still bring my team along with me?”
We’d probably discussed questions such as these a thousand times before I’d ever heard of the term ‘change management’ and we always came back to one simple answer: communicate.
No matter what the change is, making sure both parties understand each other is always the key to starting and keeping things on the right path.
- If your aim is to make sure everyone is on the same page with respect to a significant change, then the chances of you ever over communicating are vanishingly small.
- Keep the lines of communication open and use them often, the more informed your stakeholders are, the more receptive they are to change.
- The more you communicate about something, the more likely it is to stick.
Know your approach
In practical terms, to effectively communicate with your stakeholders, a couple of tools need to be pulled out of the practitioner’s toolbox. Namely, stakeholder analysis and communications planning.
I have to stress:
- Every hour spent up front understanding your stakeholders is going to save you eight hours of heartache, corrective action, or managing challenges later.
You simply cannot underestimate the importance of proper stakeholder analysis – it will feed your approach on lots of your change effort, particularly communications planning.
Make it effective
Once you understand your stakeholders it becomes about selecting the right balance of communications channels:
- Push vs. pull
- Lean vs. rich
- A variety of media
The use of diverse media helps enormously to get messages across; we’re well past the days where we had to rely on word of mouth or the written word. Be creative:
- Make videos
- Do podcasts
- Interview key influencers and publish the interview
Use all the technology and channels available to you that are appropriately aligned with your stakeholder groups’ needs.
Once you’ve got a good plan based on solid analysis and some creative flair, then you can manage its delivery rigorously – with one final caveat:
- Your stakeholders’ views and concerns will change throughout the project.
You can’t do a stakeholder analysis once and then think the effort is done, you need to reassess on a regular basis, and be flexible enough to incorporate new findings into your plans. That means:
- Your communications plan will also be a living document, which will change before you’re done.
There’s a real trap to be avoided in thinking that you can put together a communications plan at the start of a project and just blindly execute it; some informed flexibility is needed.
Despite my evangelizing about diverse media, there is one tactic which never fails from a communications perspective – authentic conversations.
The more often you can get leaders, influencers and decision-makers to have real down-to-earth conversations with your stakeholders, the more successful your change effort will be, period.
I’m not talking town halls, roadshows, presentations and stuff here. I am talking about getting that project sponsor to spontaneously pop into team meetings, to walk the floor and perch on people’s desks, to turn up to social events – to invest time in the seemingly casual communications.
Do this because:
- It resonates.
- It connects people.
- It directly assuages fears.
- It personalizes the change impact.
If you’re an executive whose organization is going through significant change, you and your immediate team need to carve out as much dedicated time as you can reasonably manage to have authentic conversations with impacted stakeholders – you’ll thank yourself for doing it afterwards.
Informed, authentic communication is always worth the time and effort you put into it. Communication isn’t only the grease that moves the wheel of change, it’s fuel to the engine that powers that wheel.
To find out more about communication, read our Organizational change the power of communication blog.