June 2010

  1. Use face-to-face communication. Put the leadership team in front of employees to provide information and answer questions to gain credibility with employees. And always give them a dot point summary so they stay on message!
  2. Communicate on a regular basis with consistent and clear messages. It’s better to hear you are communicating too much than people saying they don’t know what’s changing.
  3. Be aware of employee anxiety. When a significant change is announced, employees will naturally be focused on themselves and their futures with the organisation. Ensure communication addresses their key concerns.
  4. Don’t lie, stretch the truth or use smoke & mirrors. When employees ask questions, make sure you and the leadership team give a straight answer. People appreciate honesty even if they don’t like the answer.
  5. Use FAQs and talking points. Share talking points with team leaders and keep FAQs current to make sure everyone has the same source of information. Consider posting information on your intranet site to provide instant information and a place for employees to ask questions.
  6. Listen. It’s easy for leaders (and change managers) to get into a “tell” mode and forget to listen for reactions, discussions and concerns.

Early in my career I was a ‘spin doctor’ or Employee Communication Consultant as my then manager preferred to call me. I was responsible for spinning stories about organisation restructures, product launches and service quality to the staff at the “front line”, “coal face”, or “in the trenches”.  (We used a lot of war references in the 90s).

This was the pre-internet era when you had to go out and face your audience to deliver the message or post them a briefing sheet via internal mail.  Presentations were done with 3M ‘transparencies’ on an overhead projector and handouts were printed in colour only on special occasions. There was some email, but certainly no intranets or websites to hide behind…it was an era of real communication where you had to engage and influence people…or leave the room pretty fast at the end of your session.

We often joked that like a magician, we had to be good with smoke and mirrors, and sometimes make a white dove appear. Mainly because the underlying messages were often about restructures, job changes and increased workload. Hardly good news stories.  Invariably the ‘smoke’ was key phrases and management jargon (eg, moving from talk to action, rightsizing, creating a business imperative, quality circles), the ‘mirror’ was complex diagrams, tables and charts (with the arrows pointing upwards) and the occasional ‘dove’ was a workshop, review or some type of event to keep people distracted.

Thankfully today leadership teams believe more in delivering straight messages, transparency and telling it like it is. Although the fancy diagrams and charts still get wheeled out.  As a change manager, I’m relieved that the smoke and mirror approach has been replaced with knowledge, attitude and action.

In sum, delivering clear communication for:

Knowledge – helping people understand the business context for the change, the roadmap and how they will be involved and impacted.

Attitude  – using honest messages to inform and influence peoples’ attitude to respond to change in a positive way and consider how they can best contribute.

Action – helping people to take the appropriate steps to ensure the change is successful for them and the organisation.

At heart, the communication objective for a change program must be to keep employees engaged, informed and aligned.  A far easier and commonsense approach than trying to spin and sugar coat a message.