Communication Management

Communication is a vital part of the Change Program and should be clearly identified in the project plan.

The seriousness of the role means that it must be handled by managers who are respected within the organisation and who are likely to be believed and talked to.

Building commitment for change from those who feel threatened by it can only be achieved if they believe that their concerns have been considered. Their concerns may be justified. It is human nature to resist change but the extent and types of resistance vary depending on the change taking place. The following are examples of concerns that may be voiced:

  • fear of looking stupid when they do not understand
  • perceived threat to job security
  • loss of expertise
  • need to learn new skills
  • shifts in influence, authority, control
  • shifts in communication patterns
  • loss of social status
  • limited understanding of the change and its implications

In some circumstances, these concerns may be allayed very easily, through appropriate training, by clear statements that job security is not at risk or by explaining the implications of the change initiative in more detail. But in other situations, the concerns may be valid. There may be changes in the organisation and infrastructure that will affect their individual roles and responsibilities and they may need to learn new skills or use their experience in different ways or in new roles. It is important to communicate this honestly and to highlight the opportunities that may arise more than the threats of the change.

Communication about the change program can only be achieved by developing a comprehensive understanding of how communication works within the organisation and making sure that consistent messages are being given through all media. Communication media include both formal (meetings, newsletters, training programs, briefings, conferences, videos etc) and informal (notice boards, grapevine etc) channels. Most importantly it includes monitoring what people do as opposed to what they say - the strongest, indirect channel of communication is people (particularly managers) role modeling, using the new systems or doing things in a different way.

When communicating, it's important to remember this key fact gleaned from the marketing world: most messages must be heard at least three times before sinking in. A message may need to be heard even more often if there are competing messages, or the audience is preoccupied or in a state of mental disarray.

Communicating clearly is particularly important in multinational corporations where a variety of languages may be used. The messages communicated about any change project must be clearly communicated in all languages not just those used in head offices or by senior management within the group. Change affects everyone and they all have a right to know about it in their own language and in a way which reflects their own culture.

The most highly underrated and under-used communication technique is also the most important for building trust and assuring the effectiveness of the communication approach: listening. People spend years learning to read, write and speak effectively; but have no training in how to listen. The problem is that most people are more worried about being understood, rather than trying to understand first. Real listening with the intent to fully understand the person speaking takes a great deal of personal security. If the reply demonstrates the impact of what was heard, then the speaker knows that the audience is listening fully and empathically. This increases their persuasive abilities in turn.

Dialogue is also important. People who are afraid of change may hide their fear and avoid talking about change. They may also hide their lack of understanding or acceptance of the need for change. Overcoming resistance to change requires consistent, careful two-way communication throughout the change program.

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