Business case approved and funds available? Tick. Detailed planning completed? Tick. Consultants in place? Tick.
You should be set to roll with that major project but something's missing - a communication strategy. without one you'll risk delays due to obstruction from those with a stake in the changes you're wanting to engineer. Project derailment is even a possibility if the disaffected try to white ant the change process.
That's why it's best to start thinking about communication from the outset. Change can be scary and unwelcome for many but good communication as a project unfolds can make a difference.
Initial decisions should cover:
- the messages you want to promote about the changes being undertaken
- the various internal and external groups with whom you need to communicate
- the media likely to be most effective in promoting change.
Framing the key message is critical. In formulating your messages make sure to think about the big questions. These are: What is changing? Why? What are the benefits? Who will be affected? How? What's the timetable? What support will be available? Stakeholders will, quite naturally, have a keen interest in the personal impact of change.
As the core change campaign message should be brief - a couple of sentences at most - it may not be possible to encapsulate answers to all the big questions. The nature of the change and the benefits to major stakeholders are however a must. Once defined, the message can be reinforced in all communication throughout the project, perhaps condensed to a single phrase for more oomph in some instances.
Messaging must be simple and to the point, without hyperbole or management speak.
It must also be believable. Message matters worked on a major project where the director insisted on promoting the idea that, after the planned changes, it would be business as usual. This was patently false as relationships were being redrawn and staff needed to connect differently. No surprises that the message fell flat.
Deciding which groups must be brought on side with change should be relatively easy but think broadly about who may be affected and how information for them should be tailored. While the major impact of change may be external, staff need to understand what's happening as some may be using new systems and answering client questions. Even staff unaffected by the proposed changes should receive regular but not necessarily detailed updates on progress in the interest of corporate unity.
In directing communication on a major public sector reform, Message matters put together an information package for politicians so that they understood what was happening and could respond to queries from constituents.
The focus should still remain on the major stakeholders.
There are different avenues for promoting change, with electronic communication such as a dedicated website and regular e-updates obviously useful because of their immediacy. There's still a place for face-to-face communication through roadshows for internal and external groups and office meetings for staff, the last supported by scripts for managers. These can create useful dialogue around the changes and highlight concerns. Old-fashioned posters may also have a place in the marketing mix as handy visual reinforcement.
Giving people the opportunity to express their concerns anonymously is helpful as some may fear retribution if they can be identified. You can then work up the issues raised into a rolling series of FAQs for the website and new concerns are likely to emerge at each project stage. Ensure that in writing up FAQs you treat all concerns seriously and never trivialise.
Depending on the external stakeholders, advertisements and articles in the right industry newsletters or websites could be useful.
A mix of communication methods is best as some people will prefer to hear about changes face-to-face and other to read about them in private. It goes without saying that you should try to evaluate how effective all communication is and listen and act on what's being said.
Lastly, those in charge of communication must be plugged in to what's happening internally and externally. Internally you must be able to pick up the vibe in regional outposts and in the lifts and lunchrooms. Only with wide-ranging intelligence will you be able to identify emerging issues and take prompt and appropriate action.
Call Message matters on 0414 482 021 for advice on change management communication.