S.M.A.R.T. Communication: 5 Powerful Strategies to Make Change Stick

Do you recognize this picture?

No matter how high-performing your team or how agile your organization, you probably recognize The Vicious Change Loop.

If the WHAT, WHY, HOW & WHEN for a new Change are not clearly communicated, people will fill in the gaps.

If critical questions and concerns go unaddressed, rumors will fly.

Here are a few you might have heard…or said yourself:

  • So then what happens if…?
  • But doesn’t this clash with…?
  • Oh boy, here we go again…

uninspired-worksforceInsecurity, fear, speculation. These are just a few of the probable consequences of unclear or insufficient communication around a new Change.

This is not a success formula if lasting Change is what you seek.

For every team workshop or coaching relationship I’ve been a part of, Change has been all around us – a big Change Initiative from the board, a company-wide restructuring, a new software program to learn, etc.

When I’ve asked questions to get more information, I’ve been met with raised eyebrows, cynical laughs and lots of question marks (???).

 Time and time again I’ve seen organizations announce big Changes which then trigger ambiguity and concerns in the workforce.

This is totally normal and can’t be prevented.  It doesn’t need to be.

However, if questions go unanswered and concerns go unaddressed, the focus naturally shifts from future opportunities to unknown risks – fear of lost jobs, skepticism because they’ve heard it all before, etc.

These are not the words of people ready to embrace and drive Change. But without the enthusiasm of these people, your Change won’t stick.

The only thing I can figure out is that management wants to motivate the workforce in some way.

From my perspective, this strategy functions a lot more like a threat than a motivational tool.

Whatever the reasons, withholding information is never a good idea.  It communicates a lack of trust in the workforce.

Incomplete information or messages that leave big question marks will cause people to make assumptions and even worse.

The truth is that employees want to hear the truth, even if hard.  As recent Employee Engagement research shows, transparency is critical for employee satisfaction.

Internal Communications is usually brought in to whip up some fancy brochures and catchy slogans, all of which make no positive difference to the workforce (sometimes the opposite).

Using internal resources to spread the message is great. But senior leadership and the appointed Change Leaders should be in the driver’s seat.

This means alignment on WHAT, WHY, HOW & WHEN you communicate around the Change.


How to make it stick

Utilize these 5 S.M.A.R.T. Communication Strategies to get your Change to stick:

Strategy 1: S for Swift –

Think ahead about how the workforce will react to changes and developments. And when questions or concerns arise, address them swiftly.

Tip: Use these situations as a chance to reinforce your key messages and highlight the benefits and opportunities of the Change.

Strategy 2: M for Mindful –

Mindfully consider how your workforce will react to different messages and different forms of communication.

2 Questions/formats to consider:

  1. Does it make sense for team leads to hold regular meetings with their teams to address new challenges or concerns?
  2. How about a town hall meeting so that people can ask questions and hear from the Change Leaders themselves?

Strategy 3: A for Authentic –

Communicate authentically with your workforce like you would with an equal partner. If you tell them the truth, even when hard, they will respect you.

Tip: Do not focus only on the good and leave out the bad. People will catch on quickly and trust will be damaged.

Critical information to communicate and to ask for:

  •  What’s working/not working?
  •  What’s the current (real) status?
  •  What are the current roadblocks/critical issues?

Strategy 4: R for Regular –

Communicate regularly to help people keep track of where you are in the process and tell them why it’s important to keep moving forward.

Tip: Adjust the frequency along with way. Keep in mind – too much, too often risks information overload. Too little, too late and momentum is lost.

Strategy 5: T for Transparent –

The quickest way to build trust is by communicating transparently.

Tip: If you want them to participate in the implementation, they have to trust you. Therefore, make your communication open and transparent from the very start.

Video summary:


Conclusion

The above tips and strategies will help successfully implement and sustain Change in your team, group or organization.

Move away from the above loop and over to The Sustainable Change Loop:

5 simple words. 5 simple strategies:

Swift

Mindful

Authentic

Regular

Transparent

Here are 3 final tips to help you DO IT THE S.M.A.R.T. WAY:

  1. Be consistent. Make sure every communication reinforces the key messages that have been in place from the beginning (if you start changing the messages without explaining why, they will notice it).
  2. See problems or setbacks not only as an opportunity to reinforce your key messages but also to adapt your plan.
  3. Most importantly, pay attention to what they are saying and how they are feeling (and make the necessary adjustments!).


What’s missing for you? Please share your additional tip or idea in the comments below.

 

4 Comments

  • Marco

    Reply Reply November 18, 2016

    Thanks Tim. Change is the only constant 😉 I found change particular challenging if there was an established status-quo, that was “ok” but had room for improvement. People often perceive an “ok” solution over one where the outcome is unclear. It could get better – but also worse. Perceptions also play a role – on both side. Why is the other person really resisting; why did they actually feel the need for a change in the first place?
    Very often there is “immunity to change” in an organization. Sometimes “change readiness assessments” are done – but the emphasis that you point towards to here in this piece, communication, is spot-on Tim.

    • Steven

      Reply Reply May 9, 2017

      Tim, Love this phrase “immunity to change” in Marco’s comment. I’d add that communication is all too often characterised by low-quality quality dialogue, i.e. an immunity to hearing negative perceptions, if you like. “Tell me anything you like, as long as it doesn’t rattle and shake my fragile ego!”

      On the other hand, those executives, managers and employees who seek to understand (before judging) others’ perceptions and motives are the same people who transform their organisation faster and more effectively. These are the true champions of any change process.

  • Tim Nash

    Reply Reply November 19, 2016

    Thanks for your feedback, Marco! Yes, I’ve seen “immunity to change” and also what I’m seeing more is simply “Change Fatigue”…more reason than ever to focus on the needs of the people we expect to embrace and drive the Change!

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