The Four Keys to Successful Change Communication
We’re all familiar with traditional means of corporate communications including memos, the company newsletter, team briefings, videos, posters, attitude surveys, and employee suggestion programs to name a few. These in fact are methods of communication and tend to be effective in disseminating information to the middle management layer and above.
For the purposes of this article however lets define communication as information that changes behavior in front-line employees. After all, this is our goal in communicating organizational change. There are four keys to communication that changes behavior. We’ll explore these below.
Sergeants carry the message. Like the cliché war movie theme in which the ‘spiffy’ educated Lieutenant is saved by the experienced although ‘crusty’ Sergeant, our supervisors are a powerful force for change. They are in direct contact with those that must change behavior. We as managers have to depend on them. Day to day communications can trickle down but large change communications should be made directly from senior management to the supervisor, bypassing the middle managers who naturally tend to filter the meaning from the message. Communicating to everyone at once seems like a good idea but it in fact undermines the authority of our supervisors who can make or break the effort.
Communicate at the local level. Employees don’t care about the company. At least not the same way we do as managers. We think our employees want to hear about quarterly financial results, the latest production targets, who runs what after the third or fourth restructuring, and where we stand on our United Way goal. Studies have shown that what employees want to know is what the future plans of the company are relative to their local work area.
Communicate performance. By letting people know where they stand it is clear that what they do matters. We tend to not communicate how we’re doing (at the local level) relative to client needs and competitors, we tend to communicate how much. For example, tons per man hour, sales per square foot, throughput, plant utilization, number of transactions, calls answered. By comparing a work unit to a competitor or another similar group within the organization, a positive pressure is created that taps into the local values of pride and competition.
Communicate face-to-face. The normal means of communication tends to be “stuff” and events. It needs to be face-to-face to be most effective. 35% of Americans have not read a book since high school and only 20% have been in a bookstore. Why do we write memos? The supervisors can bring our communications directly to the people that matter, when they need it most – when they ask a question.
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Communication is the cornerstone to the successful management of organizational transitions. Evaluate all change communications by applying the four keys. Are the people in direct contact with the front-line employees carrying the message? Are we communicating at the local work area level using local values rather than corporate values? Are we communicating performance? Is the communication face-to-face? Ultimately, will the communication change behavior?