Sana was recently invited to speak on the topic of communications for change management at Reykjavik University, Iceland. The below is an excerpt of the discussion.
We are living in an era of perpetual change – to say otherwise would be to understate what has been made clear from the pandemic. In fact, the lessons from the pandemic have shown that our capacity for change must increase – it’s a requisite to survive and thrive. While our values and lived experiences can help guide us, the reality is that change is often met with apprehension, anxiety – and resistance. To truly action change, we must believe in its purpose and vision. If done right, the benefits can far outweigh the costs, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
When we consider this in the context of organizations, the principles of change remain the same. Change management is more than just processes and systems – it’s a people business. If the people impacted by the change are not engaged, supportive or do not have a complete understanding of the why, then the results can never truly be delivered and consequently business goals are not met. A successful exercise to meaningful change is measured by an organization’s capacity to evolve, grow, and action over time. Communications lies at the heart of it all – but what value does it really bring?
Change communications (or communications for change management) is about articulating information to help people understand the details of the change and why it is needed. In theory, it is a prerequisite for effective organizational change. However, there is also a higher-order to communications for leaders, and that is to help alleviate the anxiety people may feel by communicating in human terms with empathy and compassion. Change communications is as much about the art of communications as it is about the science of change.
While change initiative efforts can vary in scope and nature to include digital transformation efforts, organizational restructuring, policy changes, mergers, and acquisitions, at the start of any initiative it’s important to ask three fundamental questions:
- What is the change?
- Why are we changing?
- How will it impact employees?
The answers to these questions offer a starting point for a communications plan. To effectively deploy, it’s critical to build a narrative that addresses the why, the vision for the organization, how the change will impact people in their day-to-day roles, and share concrete steps that will make the vision a reality. If any of these factors are missing, then you are going to get resistance. It’s also important to remember that communications must be frequent and part of the broader business strategy and goals.
Despite the sector – technology, health, government, financial and professional services, retail, there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to change communications. Communications must be customized and scaled based on the organization’s purpose, needs, capacity to change and desired future state. It requires a cohort of leaders who share a common purpose and belief in the vision to inspire and invigorate its people. This includes informal leaders regardless of seniority and titles, whose opinions and perspectives can influence others within the organization. It’s important to identify and engage with these leaders from the outset to help achieve business objectives.
Change is no longer a rare phenomenon, it’s a persistent factor for any organization as they are faced with increasing customer and employee expectations. Ultimately, effective change management must become hardwired in the organization’s DNA to respond quickly and adapt effectively with purpose, prioritizing people at the centre of it all.