Clients often ask, “What are the best change management communication methods?” Of course, communication needs are driven by a number of factors including the magnitude of the change, the size of the company, and the organizational culture. Every change effort is different and worthy of a thoughtful communication plan. For instance, a small change might only require a brief memo or mention at a staff meeting; on the other hand, a big, foundational culture shift like a merger, requires an extensive plan spanning channels. But most change projects fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Survive long-term change with the change communication framework!
At ThoughtForm, we’ve developed a set of go-to communication tools for change. These are not your typical emails or town hall meetings (though you may need to do those, too). They’re out-of-the-ordinary pieces that require some extra resources and expertise to produce. But we find that clients get a lot of use out of them, and they’re typically successful in both delivering new information and driving behavioral change.
Whether you’re seeking leadership’s support for your effort or letting them know you’re ready to roll, executives appreciate brevity and clarity. So skip the 100-slide presentation with excessive operational detail and give them these two pieces instead:
Visual explanation “placemat”
We’re all inundated with PowerPoint slides these days. Why not surprise everyone with a concise, thoughtful one-pager about your effort? Visual explanation placemats—or as we call them, “Foglifters”—combine images and words to explain a process, business model, or new product or service. They focus on the 10 to 20 big ideas, making them tangible with illustrations of actors, props, and actions. This placemat will be the cornerstone of your change communications. You can distribute it widely in its entirety, but you can also use it in pieces and parts.
The visual explanation will cover most of the key information, but there will likely be a few remaining points you want to cover. Don’t try to cram them into your placemat; create a brief presentation instead. You don’t even have to make slides—this presentation could just be talking points. Try to answer the following questions:
- What value will we realize from this change?
- Why now?
- Who inside and outside the organization will be most impacted, and what will be different for them?
- What is the project timeline, and what are the key activities to get there?
Middle managers are in a difficult position for change efforts: they need to understand both the macro and the micro picture. To help them do that, you need to give them the right tools without overwhelming them. Managers should receive the information that was shared with leaders, as well as tools that help them package messages for employees. I recommend:
Visual explanation “placemat”
Managers should be given the same high-level overview of the change that leadership receives. However, they probably need a lot more detail, so they should also receive:
The deep-dive playbook
Now, just because this is a deep-dive, doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to cram in every piece of content that “might be useful.” The playbook still needs to be a tailored and concise document—just with more tactical details. Build on the structure of the visual explanation, providing more detail about the actors (people and systems), the props (tools and other physical items) and the actions (the inputs, outputs, and process) that make up this effort. The key to a great playbook is structure and a systems approach. Be sure to organize the book as a whole and the content on each page to be highly skim-able and logical, making the comprehensive picture easy to digest.
If managers are expected to help their direct reports or other employees through the change, you need to direct them on how to do that. This guide should help managers to unpack critical topics, giving them phrases and key ideas to discuss, and it should anticipate questions. (And for the sake of consistency, it should also tie neatly to the video, talisman, and discussion forum for employees that I detail below.)
Employees or associates
To cut through the day-to-day “noise” employees need change communication to be as tangible and direct as possible.
Visual explanation “placemat”
Yep—employees should get the same placemat you shared with leaders and managers. This allows you to create common ground and understanding across the organization. It also shows employees that you care about communicating to them and trust them with the same information as the top brass. And finally, reusing a piece you took the time and resources to create makes your life easier. Everyone wins!
Video walk-through of the visual explanation
Just as managers have the detailed playbook, employees also need additional context around the visual explanation. A video is a great way to provide that context. Perhaps a narrator reads out each of the big ideas as different pieces of the Foglifter are highlighted; or maybe the video shares some of the relevant deep dive content from the playbook or the “Why now?” from the leader’s overview presentation. The video can also include an introduction from company leadership or some testimonials from a pilot group. In all cases, the video walkthrough of the placemat can be played and watched again and again with the click of a button—a definite “plus” over a live presentation.
When a change isn’t too complex, the placemat may be enough of a talisman (a tangible reminder of the effort) to have a real impact for employees. But if they don’t spend much time at their desks or in a common area, or if the effort relies on individual behavior change (for example, rolling out revamped customer service principles), the placemat alone won’t cut it. In that case, a small communication piece like a wallet or pocket guide can be effective. This tool is never intended to be the first introduction to the topic or the sole communication piece. Instead, it’s a small, portable recap of key ideas to help employees remember how they are supposed to take action.
Even with changes requiring formal training, it can be useful to also offer more relaxed employee discussion forums centered around the effort. The idea is here is to give employees a chance to ask questions and voice concerns in a non-judgmental way. Small groups of familiar colleagues are key: 8 to 10 people who sit near each other, who work in a field office together, etc., along with their direct manager. Spread the forums out over a few weeks, starting immediately after the change is introduced, with follow-up sessions as the change is implemented. Low-pressure discussions allow employees to raise issues and questions throughout the change process.
Bringing it all together
These exact communication tactics may or may not be right for your project or company. But even if these tools won’t work for you, you can still incorporate some of their underlying principles into whatever you do:
- Create and distribute as few tools as possible.
- Develop reusable elements that provide a strong identity for your change effort.
- Focus on providing clear explanation and building understanding, not persuading.
- Adjust the level of detail based on the audience.
Behind every successful change management effort is clear and constant communication. Good luck!
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