Take a moment to remember how you felt the last time you were surprised at work with an announcement of a big change. No, really – pause for a moment and think about it.
Whether it’s new technology, a change in process, or a complete reorganization, it’s really jarring for most people to hear about a substantive change which impacts your work very late in the process. Unfortunately, we see this scenario all too often – both in Agile and Knowledge Management (KM) projects. In our experience, adoption of new technologies and processes suffer due to poor or insufficient change communications.
In this blog, I’ll outline the key techniques we employ at EK to engage people earlier using skillful change communication techniques to improve adoption and to nip resistance and confusion in the bud.
- Feedback, feedback, feedback: Involving people in true co-creation of change – even in small decisions – is the best way to promote adoption. In terms of communication, this means soliciting feedback and having an authentic dialogue. Feedback can take many forms: focus groups, crowdsourcing on online platforms, self-selection events, or even quick voting exercises. Some sensitive types of change are more “top down” by nature, and may involve less overall employee direction. This is no excuse to send a long email as your only “change communication.” After all, leaders can still employ dialogue in town hall or Q&A formats and change agents can have informal conversations to alleviate confusion.
- Understand and share the value: There are two types of “value” in change communication: value to the business and value to people being asked to change. Often overlooked, the first step is making sure there is agreement at the executive level of why the change is being made. For example, are there clear objectives for an organization’s KM project? Next, communicate the “WIIFM” – what’s in it for me – for individual employees to adopt the change. This is going to vary based on role, individual motivation, and even personality, and the best way to find out is to talk to people being asked to change – not to assume. Once patterns have been established – share them! Even better, ask individuals not on the change team to share – this will be a more authentic message.
- Show vulnerability and build trust: At EK, we’ve worked with a number of leaders going through complex transformations who hesitate to communicate in times of uncertainty. This is completely understandable, but if executives are feeling unsure, employees generally feel much more lost. It’s even more important to communicate during these times, even if the message is, “I’m listening,” or “I don’t know the exact answer now, but we will discover it together.” This message may make leaders feel vulnerable – but it will help stop rumors and will build trust with teams who might otherwise be suspicious that decisions are being made without their input.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself: The average worker receives nearly 100 emails a day – is it reasonable to expect them to pay attention to a single email announcing a change? This is why employing multiple modes of communication is so important. People also may have individual preferences for modes of communication like a chat tool, in-person meeting, or even physical artifacts, so what may seem like repetition to you is often just effective communication. As a general rule, the bigger or more emotionally charged a change is, the more frequently communications should happen. Frequency in this case is a way to alleviate fear, as rumors are more likely to start when a change impacts an individual’s role or could potentially result in job loss.
While it may seem like change communication is more of an art than science, following these four techniques will go a long way to establishing trust and making an organizational change go more smoothly. Struggling with the messaging around your organization’s next big change in KM or Agile? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.