According to 2020 insights from Gartner, organizations have gone through five major firmwide changes in the past three years — and nearly 75% expect to increase the types of major change initiatives they will undertake in the next three years. Between COVID-19 and intense changes in economics, politics, industry disruptors and even climate, change is constant and the need to evolve is ongoing. Communicators must navigate all changes in a strategic sense, so it’s no wonder that we see so many IABC members with change management designations. (Myself included!)
With more emphasis on the organizational and people side of change to deliver results, change management is a very valuable skill and perspective that considers the human experience more intentionally, accommodating it to be successful. For those interested in change management, here are some elements to consider within your own communications planning.
Is Everyone Aware of the Role They Play in This Change?
Prior to rolling out a major internal change, having the leaders closest to the project looped in on messages is very important. Employees typically want to hear the business strategy aspects from the person at the top (often the chief executive officer or a senior vice president) that is overseeing or sponsoring the change. This can look like messaging that speaks to the “why,” advantages of implementing and risks of not doing so.
Research from Prosci shows sponsors to be so crucial to change efforts that they can make or break an initiative, meaning their self-awareness and ongoing engagement is very important. This is also affirmed by the figure below and the fact that “active and visible executive sponsorship was identified as the greatest overall contributor to change success” for the 11th consecutive study on this topic.
Regarding more direct impacts of change, employees prefer to hear from immediate supervisors and people leaders. With a major organizational change, think of the sponsor’s message as being rooted in comfort and clarity through bigger picture strategy, while the people leaders are providing this through specific changes in the day-to-day experience. There are different sides of the change, but both are important.
Are You Proactively Identifying and Handling Resistance?
Change management is about preparing, equipping and supporting individuals moving through changes to ensure successful adoption. An organizational change is only as successful as the people driving and responding to it. This means that everyone needs to contribute for this to be meaningful and effective. For example, driving an internal change that only 80% of the employee base adopts is not considered successful or complete.
Proactively identifying which groups might resist is important. As I shared in a recent webinar with Staffbase, a communicator implementing a new intranet solution might see resistance from IT. Looping them in early as stakeholders to ensure they feel heard, while identifying what’s in it for them, will help to ease resistance and see the intranet solution adopted.
Per Prosci, it’s even possible these same groups could be positioned as advocates, in recognizing and addressing their resistance early. When people feel heard and see why it’s in their best interest to collaborate, successful results are more likely to be achieved.
How Are You Considering Communications Channels?
Careful consideration of where your audience is most inclined to be receptive is crucial to ensuring their awareness and desire to help drive the change. Offering frequent engagement opportunities across multiple channels like town halls with Q&A, brainstorming sessions, articles and direct prompts from a people leader can ensure that the audience is aligned to the change.
According to Prosci, this multi-faceted approach means that people from all roles, departments and perspectives are more likely to stay informed. As change management is, in a way, the emotional intelligence side of project management, thinking how every individual is most likely to connect and receive information is very important.
Per Gallagher’s State of Internal Communications 2021 report, “40% [of organizations] rarely or never measure satisfaction with internal communications,” indicating a likelihood that more consideration for the employee experience will be advantageous to driving successful change adoption while developing an employee culture that is stronger and more supportive.
Are You Staying on Top of Post-Performance to Sustain Adoption?
As mentioned above, project completion is not the indicator of success, it’s about what happens next in the post-performance state. A proactive hint that post-performance may be a challenge or major focus for change and communications experts is seeing senior leaders opt in and out of an initiative based on availability. This is indicative that change is seen at the senior levels as “nice to have” rather than essential to success, which challenges the likelihood of results.
As this Prosci blog points out “Are you getting things done or getting things adopted?” If a change is implemented and adopted by 100% of employees but then forgotten with time, this indicates a lack of success through inconsistency or lack of reinforcement. For example, knowing the sponsor might be too busy to stay involved in change sustainment activities may require a transfer of responsibilities to another senior leader. As change or communications experts, remaining connected to employee sentiments and reiterating crucial messages and certain change activities is also necessary.
There are a lot of ties between change management and communications, especially as both teams focus primarily and proactively on the people side of change. Utilizing practices and tools from both focuses will strengthen the likelihood of project success, organizational change and stakeholder alignment. If you would like to learn more about how change management can amplify your communications planning, I invite you to join the new IABC Change Management Shared Interest Group (SIG).
Paige Strand is a communications leader with experiences across the financial technology, hotel, real estate, restaurant, automotive and publishing industries. Listed on The Peak’s ‘Emerging Leaders of 2022’ list, Strand is slated to speak at many engagements, including the 8th Annual BC Communications Forum. Renowned and recruited for supporting organizations through major growth transitions and intense change, Strand recently completed her Prosci Change Management certification to further exercise leadership in both communications and change environments. She is a writer, mentor, mentee and seeking a nonprofit board to commit to. Strand is the communications manager at Central 1, a member of IABC’s British Columbia Chapter and an evaluator for IABC’s Gold Quill Awards program. Connect with Strand on LinkedIn.