There’s a very important event coming up in our house in May: The annual Eurovision Song Contest.
We are one of those families who have friends round each year on the big night, get the scorecards out and cheer our favourites on. We even watch the semi-finals the week before.
But usually it starts long before that with choosing the UK entry. Not this year, all of a sudden Ken Bruce is announcing our entry on Radio 2.
Where was my chance to be involved? Why wasn’t I told it had changed? And, more importantly, why has it changed?
Ok, so this is a fairly trivial example (unless you are a true Eurovision fan) but the same holds true for any business change.
People don’t object so much to the change itself. What they don’t like is having change forced on them with no explanation and no chance to say what they think. So here’s a guide to how to get a better outcome from the changes you make:
Get all your ground work in place. Make sure you know what your objectives are and the outcome you hope for. In other words, why are you doing this and what do you want to achieve? What part will the leaders of the business play? Who will be affected and how? You may not be able to answer this fully at this stage, but keep coming back to it throughout the project to influence your communications.
Explain very clearly what the change is that you are planning to make and, most importantly, why you are doing it. By doing this you stand a better chance of getting everyone committed to the change you are planning.
Make sure you don’t use jargon or terms that are unclear. And don’t try to fudge the issue – people are smarter than that and they will see through you.
Say how the change will impact on people – no matter how much they value the company they work for, people are much more interested in ‘What’s In It For Me’. Remember that some may be more directly affected than others so you many need to consider talking to different groups in different ways and be sure to explain it first to the people who are directly affected.
Give people time to absorb what you have said. They will almost certainly have questions, but the questions might not come up straight away. You may even have to allow time to ‘grieve’ if the change is significant.
If you can, make a number of ways available for people to ask questions at a later date – drop in sessions, an email address, managers talking to different groups, a box where people can post cards with their questions on it. Make sure that as well as modern digital methods there are also more traditional face to face and paper/pen ways of asking, particularly for more traditional industries.
Involve them in the change. If you are can, ask them what they think and whether you could make the change in a better way – often frontline employees will have very good insight about an operational change that might not have occurred to managers. If you go down this route, be sure you are able to consider their ideas or else explain why their ideas won’t work. Asking for input and then ignoring it will kill any change programme immediately.
Get people excited about the change – we all know that feeling when you move house and you’re really excited to finally get the keys. You need to help everyone feel that same level of excitement in the change that you map out for them. Remind them of the benefits and the important part they play.
Once you have implemented the change, have a follow up session to find out what worked and what didn’t so you know for next time. You could do an employee survey, hold focus groups, have drop in sessions, capture it by email.
And at all times…
Whatever stage you are in your change communication, there are some things that apply throughout the process:
Communicate often – how often depends on what you are communicating and who you are communicating to, but don’t just tell people once and leave it at that. It may be useful to have a weekly or fortnightly round up that people come to expect. But…
Don’t wait to communicate important changes – if there is something critical that you need to tell people, don’t wait till the next regular briefing, tell them as soon as you possibly can.
Use different channels – what works for one group of employees may not work so well for another group. Use a variety of media that includes face to face (walking the floor, team meetings, town halls) digital (intranet, text, email) and written (posters, briefing sheets, postcards). In practical terms, if you have large numbers of people to get together, you could set up meetings in advance once the change project starts.
Use clear language – Don’t use business jargon or terms that are hard to understand. This is particularly important if you are bringing someone in from outside who might use a different set of language that people have not heard before.
Be honest, as far as you can. There will certainly be things at time that you can’t say, but do your best to say as much as you can, as early as you can. If you try to fob people off they will see through you and you will lose credibility.
Be empathetic – remember you have probably had longer to get used to the change than the people you are talking to. Try to put yourself in their shoes and show you understand why they feel like they do.
Say what you can’t say – if you can’t say give an answer, just say so. It may be because you simply don’t know yet, or it may be because the level of confidentiality is such that you can’t say just yet. But whatever it is, being honest is really important.
Be credible and open – During times of change, you need to be trusted, otherwise you won’t be able to bring people along with you.
Respond quickly – whether that be to questions or concerns or suggestions for improvement. If you respond quickly you are more likely to maintain your credibility.
Maybe if the BBC had done some of this, I might be less cross that I had no say in choosing our entry. However, it still won’t change the fact that the UK is bound to come near the bottom…again.