4 ways Internal Communication can turn change to its advantage

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As the global marketplace continues to become faster and more complex, Internal Communication (IC) must evolve to meet it. Thriving, not merely surviving, in the midst of change is what’s needed. Megan Sheerin explores four smart shifts internal communicators must make to keep pace.

If there’s one thing that tires the hardiest of communicators, it’s relentless, unpredictable change. The kind that frustrates Internal Communication’s day-to-day work as much as its long-term planning. The kind that buries us under old strategies, communication plans—and complaints from employees that what we previously communicated to them is no longer relevant.

In today’s complex and fast-paced world, near-constant change is a given. Companies that can adapt—and quickly—have a competitive edge. Managing this change successfully is where Internal Communication can help. Yet knowing where to start can be overwhelming, especially when we’re dealing with deeply entrenched workflows that once worked well.

Letting go of, or adapting, some long-held paradigms is the key to communicators meeting the expectations of an increasingly fast and more complex global marketplace. But you can’t simply drop a new approach on top of an existing one and expect to win. Before you tackle changing processes and structures, it’s critical to first shift attitudes and beliefs. Only then will your Internal Communication function—and organization—reap the benefits.

Melcrum’s research reveals four paradigm shifts IC should consider, to achieve exactly that:

1. Moving from extensive, sequential planning to adaptive, iterative planning.

Rigid sequential planning wrongly assumes change happens only before or after a communications campaign. But in reality, change can occur at any point during a campaign—or even throughout it. This means as internal communicators, we need to revamp our linear planning processes to be more adaptable. It’s about being flexible and learning as change takes place, then revising our next steps to take that new knowledge into account.
EMC is one company that does this well.

The IC function in this leading IT company manages its campaigns in short cycles—working in ‘communication sprints’ to create intermittent deliverables, in turn pulling forward returns on their campaign investments. Internal Communication works alongside its Marketing partner organization to scale these campaigns quickly, pulling in expert resources from across the enterprise and prioritizing important campaigns so that everyone is aligned.

2. Moving from favoring the change curve to employee moments of truth.

The linear change curve assumes employees progress through change in a predictable way. It’s a framework that’s served Internal Communication well in guiding workflows when the business environment was more stable. However employees today are more likely to jump around, skip over and jolt backward as they learn to adapt to change—especially when it keeps occurring and employees have more and better information sources to refer to.

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Tackling a technical programme roll-out as change communicators

As a Change Communicator who has led communications on several technical roll-outs, when I’m reading job specifications, I always see the phrase – “must have the ability to translate complex technical information into easy to understand communication”.

I would expect that any communicator worth their salt would be able to do this – after all, it’s what we do day in, day out. But it got me to thinking about the specific communications challenges of technical programs and the best way to tackle them.

To make things easy, I have put together a few practical suggestions:

 

  1. Call IT Support. Utilise the technical team, the IT guys are great. They know the changes inside out and they want to communicate but they’re not always brilliant at it. Engage someone from the IT team on your communications team early on. They will be enthusiastic contributors, they’ll facilitate access to technical resources and help you make sense of a complex roll-out.

 

  1. Build a Champions League. If like me you’re often drafted in mid-rollout when things aren’t going so well and you need to turn things around quickly on your own – then you’re going to need to find support. With multi-site roll-outs you’re going to need people on the ground to host events, print posters and share information. Send out an appeal for volunteers to be champions or mentors of the change. Enlist one or more people per site or function and set up a regular call and cascade process with them. Each of your champions knows the specifics of their market or business and will ensure that your change is embedded properly.

 

  1. Expel the fear – Get hands on. Technology is one of the most feared types of change. People assume that they’re not going to be able to use it and panic that they won’t be able to do their work in the way that they are used to. Hold open events staffed by IT experts where employees can go and try out the new system before it is installed so their fear is alleviated.

 

  1. Sell the benefits. If you manage communications over a phased roll out, start to capture key benefits and good news stories early on. Video clips, podcasts and news stories showing practical examples of how others have benefited from the change will build confidence and even excitement around the change.

 

  1. Train to Gain. Make sure that there is adequate training in place. Often software upgrades are installed without any instructions on how to use the new system. Power users won’t have any trouble, but mere mortals are going to find the process of finding out how to perform their usual tasks frustrating, time-consuming and stressful. Short online modules and quick how-to guides will take most of this pain away as well as reduce helpdesk calls.

 

  1. Call for back-up. Last but not least , visible back-up is required. Even with the smoothest transition, individual problems during implementation will surface.  Have plenty of floor walkers on site and give everyone a card with the support number, email and website address.

 

There will always be specific issues with technical roll-outs and you should tailor your strategy to match the audience, but I hope the points above will give you practical ideas about how to make the transition smoother and less stressful for everyone involved.

Theresa Stinson

I’m always happy to discuss communications, so if you have any specific communications challenges, then reach me via LinkedIn

Post written by Theresa Stinson, Senior Change Communications Consultant