Retro post: change communication

I had a conversation with a client this week about how the large system project she is about to start will require considerable change communication – simply having a new system in place will not solve any of the problems the organisation is experiencing if no-one changes their behaviours. This discussion reminded me of this blog piece I wrote a while back. Hope you enjoy revisiting it.

Change communication seems to be featuring even more regularly in my professional life than usual at the moment. It has been true for a long time that whilst I often hear people saying things like “here we go again, we’ve seen all this before, it’ll be better when the change stops”, change has become an ongoing fact of life, not something that stops and starts. But it seems that I’m coming across more opportunities to talk about the importance of getting communication right during times of change.

Last month I ran a change comms workshop for an internal comms team who wanted to brush up their skills ahead of a major change programme at their charity and included some tips on communication during change in my session at the Directory of Social Change Charity Writing Training. Now I’m starting a project with a university that is introducing a new system for their staff to book travel – on the face of it a straightforward process swap, but in reality a highly emotive undertaking that requires careful engagement.

As with all communication needs, I believe that the key to successful change communication is to be clear from the start what you’re trying to achieve (what is actually going to be changing and what will people need to think/feel/do as a result) and who is going to be affected, in what way (realistically, from their perspective, not yours). Armed with this information you can develop your key messages and identify the way to reach your target groups. Flexibility is also extra important in times of uncertainty, so that you can react to feedback and variations in how people are feeling along the way.

There are many change models available that can be useful when planning your change comms. Different models will suit different scenarios. I would also recommend being wary about confusing change communication and change management – although closely linked, they are not the same thing. I often find that there is an expectation that ‘good’ communication will make everything go smoothly, especially when I’m faced with a badly thought-out or last minute change. Sadly, this just isn’t true – a bad decision is still a bad decision, no matter how effectively you communicate it!

Final thought – always remember to communicate about what’s staying the same, as well as what’s changing.

Until next time

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