The Information Technology project team seemed to be upbeat, certainly if one analysed the tenor of their weekly project reports mailed to everyone in the company. Their “Win of the Week” e-mail was a status update of progress being made with the intended implementation of a new IT platform for the company – a much-needed overhaul of their outdated and cumbersome current system. Most of the e-mails painted very rosy pictures – “Almost there! Everyone trained on the new software and ready to go. Almost all of our objectives before going live have been met!” Most of the employees, however, didn’t share the same sentiments – they almost all felt that, even though trained in the application of the new software, they had no real concept of how their respective jobs would be changing after ‘Go Live’. For them, the e-mails were project propaganda and not a reflection of reality. The credibility of the communication lessened and morale decreased.
Regular communication during times of change is critical, but the same also needs to be believable. A progress picture that is too rosy detracts from the reality of the change pain and employees feel unheard in the process. Honesty, realism and reassurance should characterise communication efforts – reaching out in this fashion develops trust and advances the notion of deep care for employees. The following suggestions could comprise a communication strategy:
- Communicate intentions from the beginning – even in the early stages of deliberation, approving budget and signing off on the change project, messages (like: ‘we are getting better’, ‘we are moving towards excellence’, ‘we are growing towards maturity’, etc.) need to be shared with all staff by the senior managers to create anticipation.
- Align the change to core business ideals – messages should link intended change to the strategy, vision and values of the company. Employees need to understand the external and internal triggers for the change and get to a place of grasping the desired result following a successful change implementation. The benefits of successful change need to be clear.
- Outline the change strategy – a step-by-step strategy, with milestones and timelines, is preferable. Employees need to understand where and when they will be involved in the process and what will be expected from everyone during the intervention.
- Explain how the organisation will be assisting employees with the change – this should not only include technical training, but also development in change management, support groups, dialogue forums, educational collateral, help-lines, etc.
- Keep communicating honestly throughout the change process – this communication should include wins and challenges.
- Endorse task teams – leadership presence, with appropriate messages of encouragement and the expression of appreciation for effort. This should be done publicly where possible.
- Celebrate successful change – in large-scale change initiatives, create opportunities to applaud and revel in milestone successes.
- Ensure communication measures for sustainability are in place – tweak areas that still need improvement and have monthly/quarterly reviews to ensure steady progress. Appoint change champions to assist with this process.
Believable communication enhances change processes, develops trust and keeps employees appropriately focused. These credible messages make sure that successes are visible, unambiguous and speak to what people deeply care about.