“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”
The world has changed – new technology means that there are new opportunities, markets, products and even jobs that didn’t exist even five years ago. With this change comes opportunities for your competitors to get an edge. Having a well thought-out business strategy will help to deal with these changes and threats.
But if you don’t understand your people and how they navigate change, even the greatest business strategy will fail.
The internal communications profession is relatively new, and some organisations struggle to see it more than just the team that runs the intranet. While in some organisations this may be the case, internal communications theory is rooted in psychology – the pursuit of understanding why people do the things they do, in the way they do. Ignoring the importance of understanding your people will leave your business unable to adapt to change at the pace you now require.
As Mike Boyd notes in Communicating internal change effectively* “how you communicate with [your staff] will significantly impact on their productivity and willingness to adapt to their environment.”
When executing a business strategy, you need to have a well developed internal communications strategy that will set the foundation your people need to change. As a part of that process, you need to:
1- Understand your people
Your people are the most important assess in your organisation – the successful execution of your business strategy depends on them.You should already have an understanding about what brings your people to work every day. If not, you need to.
You need to understand how a change in strategy might impact everyone’s day-to-day work, and how they might feel about that. The excitement of a new strategy at the senior leadership table may not be shared by people further down the line if that means they have to change what they do. As Dan Pink argues in Drive: The surprising thing about what motivates us is the concept of mastery, or being the best at what you do. Mastering a task/job/skill can motivate people more than money. If you start to threaten what people do everyday, disrupting the thing that they may have worked years at to master, you’ll impact their motivation and willingness to change.
2 – Understand the real impacts of the new strategy
By understanding the real life impacts of the new strategy on your business, you’ll be able to identify who’ll be most impacted and how. These are the people you need to work the hardest with to bring them along with you – take care of these people. While they may seem the most resistant to the changes, by working with them to help them understand why you’re changing their world, they can be your biggest supporters.
3 – Nail the ‘why’
Why is the business strategy changing? This may be the single most important part of your communications to your people. Having a clear, articulate and easy to understand reason why the business is changing, and why people should get on board with it, will help smooth out the bumpy road to change ahead of you. It shouldn’t be long, it shouldn’t be complicated, but it does need to be sincere and honest.
4 – Choose your spokespeople carefully, get them tooled up
Big strategic change needs to be lead from the top – the CE and their leadership team should be front and centre of your messaging. However, you need to make sure that the spokespeople are credible, are sincere and are able to relate to their people. Once you have identified your key spokespeople, give them the tools they need to be able to communicate the messages clearly and without confusion.
This may mean running a session with an external facilitator to run through the messages and sharpen up delivery. These sorts of sessions will pick things up like non-verbal communication and body language. As noted in Forbes, “when a leader stands in front of an audience of employees and talks about how much he welcomes their input about ways to implement change, the message gets derailed if that executive hides behind a lectern, or leans back away from his audience, or puts his hands behind his back, or shoves them in his pockets, or folds his arms across his chest. All of those send closed nonverbal signals – when the intended message is really about openness and inclusion.”
Top of mind also needs to be the perception that can be created by the actions of your key spokespeople. Telling your staff that you understand how hard change can be, then heading off on an overseas holiday the next day, will undermine the whole message. Perception is reality.
5 – Be the messenger
You don’t want your people to find out about things second hand, on the kumara vine, or even worst – via the media. Commit to telling your people everything they need to know, early and through channels they have ready access to. And make sure you do this – as George Bernard Shaw noted: “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
6 – Start now
Start laying the groundwork BEFORE you need to take your organisation through major change. You may not have the resources for a fully fledged internal communications team, or even person, but you can start making your organisation more resilient to change by thinking about this now.
*Human Resources, February/March 2007