Leonie Dixon, Director, Projects and Planning, in our New York office offers her take on communication and its importance in periods of transformational change.

Change is a critical component for business. Yet, all too often, companies completely fail to push through change – whether it is strategic, business model, structure, integration, processes, culture or, indeed, pretty much any type of new corporate move. None of us like it so we resist it until it fails.

According to a recent PwC and Katzenbach Center culture and change management survey, only about half of transformational change programmes achieve their goals and manage to sustain them. The reasons why change programmes fail vary, but certain elements come up time and time again: culture and leadership. Both of which tie back into the third and, perhaps, most important factor – communication.

Leaders have a vital role in setting the tone and shaping the culture of an organisation and an effective leader can nurture change and effectively motivate their employees. And their key tool is communication. Not just at the point of change but as part of business as usual. Research also shows that Leadership that is trusted and focuses on relationship building – i.e. communication – deliver increased levels of employee engagement.

Transformational change

In times of change, leaders have the responsibility to effectively communicate – even if the message is tough, and even if they don’t yet possess the answers. In fact, it’s almost a given that it will be both of these. Not communicating is much more damaging. It is the lack of knowledge that can disrupt and destroy and ultimately degrade the success rate.

The basics for change communications are simple, but often ignored. Employees need to:

  • Know and understand the rationale, the “why” question. What is the inspiring vision that the leader has put forward? And why is it so apposite and compelling?
  • Have awareness of what the individual’s role is in this shared purpose – what does it mean to them and what do they need to do?
  • Have a strong connection and trust in the leadership that ensures they see themselves as a member of the collective and desire to support the shared purpose. This one goes back to the need to have ongoing and effective employee communications in place before any change occurs.

So what does that mean for the communication with your employees in these periods?

Here’s a checklist based on our experience of putting together communications that effectively deliver the desired changes:

  1. Think about communications as early as you can. Create a full plan for the communication strategy across the change period, prior to information being leaked or rumours becoming rife. 
  2. Remember that the map is not the territory. Plans need to be revisited, refreshed and refined subject to the realities of implementation.
  3. Communications should be clear, resonant and, consistent. They should include realistic objectives and goals that employees understand.
  4. Develop a compelling creative platform to help your communications break through the everyday noise level, so that employees are signposted to the subject matter.
  5. Ensure that there are a variety of channels used to get the relevant information and messaging out, and provide the best opportunity for employees to see and take on-board the information. 
  6. Employees should be informed as soon as possible within any market restraint or regulations. Mistrust, anger and resentment within the workforce can all lead to reduced productivity and/or morale.
  7. Commit to communicating for the long haul. Change takes time and communications need to continue to ensure that people and organizations can change – and that changes stick. Communicating successful change is a powerful means of maintaining momentum and belief.
  8. Project management is fundamental but not at the expense of real communications. Planning, processes and meetings are key but they shouldn’t be confused with real information and understanding about what is happening and why.
  9. Allow employees to feedback. There should be some mechanism for them to discuss fears, concerns, ask questions and share ideas. The more they feel a part of it the more likely they are to be loyal to the organisation and get behind the change to help it succeed. 
  10. Always remember that employee engagement is all about respect. Employees have the power to make change happen.

To find out more about how we can make your change a success please contact Leonie Dixon in New York, Phil Morley in London or another member of your local MerchantCantos team.