A Practical Guide to Creating a Change Management Plan (Part 3 – Building the Communication Strategy)

This is the third post in my series about managing change in large organizations. You can read my first 2 posts here:
1. A Practical Guide to Creating a Change Management Plan
2. A Practical Guide to Creating a Change Management Plan (Part 2 – Building the Engagement Strategy)

As mentioned in my last post, a typical change management strategy consists of 5 tracks: (1) Engagement, (2) Communication, (3) Training, (4) Coaching and (5) Transition Management (including resistance management). This post focuses on the second track: Communication.

Goals of Communication
My intent with communication is to consistently provide meaningful information to the right audience at the right time. To do this, I find it necessary to cater the communication messages to each of the impacted departments within the organization. If required, I develop different communication messages for users playing different roles within a department as not all departmental employees will be impacted the same way. Of course, catering messages right down to the individual is a lot of work, but no one ever said managing change was easy!

The timing and content of the messages will take into account the audience’s current knowledge of the project and their level of readiness to support the change. With this in mind, I typically move the organization (and its organizational employees) through 3 stages of communication:

Stage 1 – Communicate for project awareness
Pre-requisite: none

In this first stage, I focus my communications on the “why” of the change. These early communications explain the nature of the change, why the change is being made, and clearly state the risk of not changing. Although the “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM) may still be loosely defined at this stage, I try to include the impact of the change as much as possible.

Stage 2 – Communicate for training and education activities
– Ensure that the impacted stakeholders understand the “why” for change
– Ensure that the impacted stakeholders have the desire to support the change effort.
User-adoption and training challenges increase exponentially if these pre-requisites are not met.

In this second stage, communication focuses on the information, training and education necessary for people to know how to change. This type of communication includes information about behaviours, processes, tools, systems, skills, job roles and techniques that are needed to work in the new world.

Please note that other change management strategies, such as coaching and resistance management, are required to get employees to a point where they are ready to support and actively participate in the change initiative. (These will be covered in separate posts.)

Stage 3 – Communicate to reinforcement the change
Pre-requisite: The target audience needs to have the knowledge and abilities to execute the proposed change. Put simply, you cannot reinforce something that people don’t know how to do.

In this third stage, communication focuses on reinforcing the change, celebrating successes and encouraging new ways of working. My primary goal in this third stage is to increase the momentum for change and to anchor new behaviours in the organization. Reinforcement messages include public recognition and celebrations that are tied to the realization of the change.

I may be getting ahead of myself in this post, but if this helps, here is a template I use to highlight the key messages per communication stage: template.

Measuring Communications
An important part of a communication strategy is to measure the effectiveness of the communication towards the organization. Measuring the success of communications lets me know if I am getting through to people. This can be as formal or informal as you want it to be – it all depends on the organization with which you’re working..

Below are some guidelines for measuring the success of your communications at each stage.
Measuring Stage 1 (Project Awareness)
Here are some standard follow-up questions I use in this communication stage:

1) Have you heard of the change?
2) What is the purpose of the change?
3) Do you know how this will this impact you?
4) Are you ready and willing to support the change effort?

I use these questions to gauge the level of awareness, understanding and desire towards these changes. This also helps identify the stakeholders who are ready for training.
As a side note, I recommended training those that have an adequate level of awareness, understanding and desire to adopt the change. Also, conduct training as close to the implementation date as you can. I know this gets complicated when there are waves and waves of people to train, but it always pays off to have the relevant information available when it’s needed.

Measuring Stage 2 (Training and Education)
To measure the effectiveness of communication at this stage, I add a few questions about training andcommunications in the post-training survey. These questions can be as simple as the following two questions below:

1. The communication I received prior to training was:
1. Far too little
2. Too little
3. Just right
4. Too much
5. Far too much
2. What would you add or change to the pre-training communications?
[Add comment section]

Other measurements, such as gauging the effectiveness of training classes, will be discussed in the Training post. Please stay tuned.

Measuring Stage 3 (Reinforcing New Behaviours)
I use these types of measurements when the workforce is starting their transition to new models, practices and processes. After communications have been sent, I follow up with the following questions. Again, this can be as formal as a survey or as informal as a hallway chat – it all depends on the corporate culture of the company .

1. Do the impacted stakeholders understand the new behaviours that need to be exhibited?
2. Can they articulate what they are stopping, starting and continuing to do?
3. Are people regressing back to old processes, systems and behaviours?

That pretty much sums up my communication strategy – in a nutshell. As always, comments are welcome. Stay tuned for my next posts on the other 3 change management tracks: training, coaching and transition management.

Posts related to this series – Change Strategy:
1. A Practical Guide to Creating a Change Management Plan
2. Part 2 – Building the Engagement Strategy
3. Part 3 – Building the Communication Strategy
4. Part 4 – Building the Training Strategy
5. Part 5 – Building the Coaching Strategy
6. Part 6 – Building the Transition Strategy

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