Change Management Communication 101
Last updated on October 7, 2022 at 08:10 pm
Change management feels like a big, scary thing. That’s partly because change management communication isn’t easy. Getting employees to accept, adopt, and maintain a change can be really difficult. But it doesn’t have to be. That’s why we’ll break down a few strategies and best practices to help you communicate change more effectively.
What is Change Management Communication?
Change Management is defined as a systematic process for helping an organization transition to using a new process, technology, system, or even way of working (e.g. mission/values/company direction).
So, Change Management Communication, or change communication, is all the ways that we share messages and help our companies through transformation or change.
But when we think about communicating change, it’s not a linear process and then you’re done! We might wish that was the case, but the reality is, to get changes to stick, we need a change management communication plan that continues to reinforce and reiterate the desired behavior.
Change Communication Strategies
Several change management frameworks can be beneficial when putting together your communication plan.
The Prosci ADKAR® Model
We like the Prosci ADKAR® model for change management communication because it helps break down communication needs into stages. But, perhaps most importantly, it also prescribes that there is a period of reinforcement that may be ongoing depending on the complexity of the change.
So, what is ADKAR?
- Awareness: initial communications to let people know a change is happening
- Desire: sharing why the change matters and how it benefits your employees to get your people on board with the change
- Knowledge: teaching teams what they need to know to change successfully
- Ability: actually helping employees enact the desired behavior change
- Reinforcement: ongoing communication to remind employees of the change and what is expected of them
Technology Adoption Curve
In our business, we talk about the technology adoption curve a lot! This model shows how and when people get on board with new technology.
In fact, getting employees to adopt new systems and tech is a major type of change in most organizations. So, this model for behavior and why certain groups are slower to get on board is really helpful when crafting and targeting your messages.
Whenever you roll out a new piece of software or technology, employees will fall into one of a few groups:
- Innovators: These are your super users. Your champions of change. They want what’s new because they like being first, and they are the rare few who like change and disruption. It’s great if you can find these people in your organization and tap them to help you gain momentum early on during a change.
- Early Adopters: These are highly engaged people who aren’t as resistant to change as some. They are likely to want new tools that solve their problems, even if it means shaking up how they’ve done things.
- Early Majority: Like your early adopters, this group is more engaged, and with a little convincing (the WIIFM—what’s in it for me?), they will be on board.
- Late Majority: This group wants some proof before they make any changes. They want to see the first 50% of the company use a new tool or system successfully before they’re on board. And sometimes, they just need to be told “this is mandatory” to take the plunge.
- Laggards: The final group is the hardest. You might never get them to adopt a change.
Change Agility Methodology
This method looks at change from the perspective of ensuring your company can be agile by taking a thoughtful approach to change. There are four stages:
- Purpose. This is where you define why you are changing. Remember that different groups within your company might have a different “why.”
- Design. This is where you bring a cross-section of employees together from your company to work together on a change program.
- Pilot. We are often so eager to make changes, that sometimes we forget this step. But this is one of the most important things we can do to assess if a change is right for our company and to work out any kinks in messaging or providing the proper support to impacted teams. Be prepared to discover that a change is a bad idea during the pilot phase. Don’t force changes if they fail in a pilot.
- Deploy. Deploy doesn’t just mean pushing out a change and calling it a day. This phase requires you to continue collecting feedback, monitoring progress, and celebrating wins.
Change Management Best Practices
Regardless of what model or framework you use, there are a few best practices that will set you up for success.
- Create feedback loops. People are far less resistant to change if they feel like they were involved in the process. If you consult focus groups and leaders across the organization before pushing changes out from the top, you are more likely to win them over. And BONUS, they might actually point out flaws in your plan before you get started, saving you time and resources.
- Define the type of change. Is the change core, transitional, or transformational? Who is really being affected? What barriers might exist? Answering these key questions upfront will help you craft your strategy.
- Develop personas for impact analysis. Sit down with all the major stakeholder groups and interview them to really understand their needs and how the change will impact them. Then use these personas to develop the messaging for each group. Not all groups will require the same level of detail or support, which will help you define that.
- Measure and keep checking in. Even if you do your research upfront and get employee feedback, continuous measurement and check-ins with teams will help you ensure a change is rolling out the way you expected.
“If you affect change by starting with the early adopters, the majority won’t just go along with it, they’ll demand it.” – Simon Sinek
Wholistic Change Management Strategy
Outside of individual change campaigns, it’s important to look at change from a high level.
- How much change is happening within your organization? Is it enough to be overwhelming to your teams? Are you changing systems too often and too quickly rather than taking longer to pick the right solutions?
- What is the mindset towards change at your company? There’s a great Socrates quote that says, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” At your company, how do people feel about change? How do you approach it? Are you focused on solving problems and making the right choices, or are changes happening for the sake of change?
While it might sometimes be out of your control, as the communications team, you have the ability to highlight when too many changes are being made at once. To be a strategic advisor, sometimes you have to be the person to say, “we are asking our field teams to do too much,” and to share that feedback from the field. Properly cadencing change and shifting the collective mindset towards it within your company can often be key to helping changes happen successfully.
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