Whether for large or small-scale changes taking place in your organization, a straightforward approach can drive success and sustainability. One such approach is Peak Development’s “CLEAR Model,” which focuses on five key elements:
As all five of the elements are important in leading change, we will discuss each one individually in a series of articles over the next several months, beginning with communication.
Effecting change in any organization requires a disciplined approach to communication. Having clear, crisp answers to the basic questions of what, when, who, why, and how goes a long way toward cementing a change. However, the ways you choose to communicate that information will determine how quickly you’ll be able to create momentum around your change and how real and lasting its impact will be. Here are the most important considerations when designing communication plans for your change efforts:
- Timing – includes frequency, consistency, and timeliness. Many leaders concentrate their communications around the launch and execution phases of a change effort. While this can create fanfare and excitement, there is danger in it being perceived as an “event”: a one-time push which may or may not be sustained over the long term. By contrast, establishing a regular communication cadence over the entire span of the project keeps an active channel open with your audience, building trust and providing people with the data they need. In times of uncertainty, when information is scarce, people fill in the blanks with their own—often negative—perceptions. Continuous, consistent communication—preventing gaps that could allow people to create their own stories—forms the bedrock upon which successful change efforts are built.
- A tailored approach – Different audiences have different needs. What people need to know may vary by level, by geography, by function, by role, and more. Take the time to identify and segment your audiences. Then customize your messages as needed, so people can discover “what’s in it for me?”
- A multi-channel strategy – The average person needs to hear a message between seven and fourteen times before they act upon it. Given that volume, and the fact that people respond differently to different types of media, the best communication strategies employ a variety of channels.
- Face-to-face – While new technology can make it easier to reach large audiences, nothing beats being face-to-face, whether one-on-one, in a team meeting, or in a “town hall.” When people are able to look their leaders in the eye, see their body language, and have a conversation, they feel more of an emotional connection. That emotional connection—more so than a rational understanding of the facts—is what drives energy and engagement. Whatever other media you add into the mix, make sure that personal, face-to-face methods are a cornerstone of your strategy.
- Video is growing in importance as companies are more geographically dispersed and employ more remote workers. While not quite as good as being in person, a teleconference is a close second. New technology has made it significantly easier to create and share your own videos, whether on a company’s intranet, on YouTube, Vimeo, or Periscope. If you have access to a smartphone and/or a computer, you have everything you need. Interviews, recorded speeches, simple animations, or even slides or images set to music can all help cut through the clutter and engage your audiences.
- Print – While face-to-face and video methods can be more personal, they’re also fleeting. A good print piece is a tactile experience, and is a continuous, physical reminder of your messages. Brochures, posters, booklets, table tents, and even letters are effective in building awareness and communicating information your audience can repeatedly reference.
- Email – For speed and efficiency, nothing beats email. You can reach a large number of people quickly, and with little-to-no cost. But with inboxes overflowing, there’s no guarantee your message will be absorbed, which is why I caution clients against relying too heavily on this channel of communication.
- Blogs – Especially if you can establish a regular cadence, a blog can be a useful tool in your communications tool kit. Whereas other media focus on pushing information out to your audiences, a blog has the capacity to pull people in, provided it has engaging content. If you choose to enable comments in your blog, it can also be a great way to gather feedback and encourage conversation.
- Social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and more) is an excellent way to build awareness, encourage connection, and to cut across an organization’s levels. There is a learning curve, and it requires an ongoing, daily commitment, but those who choose to use social media in their leadership will see benefits as their audiences grow.
- Leadership cascades – These are a staple in many large organizations, where senior leaders communicate to their direct reports, the information is passed down to successive levels, and feedback is passed back up the chain. It can be highly effective, as each manager is experienced as playing an active role in sharing information. It does, however, require coordination of timing, expectations, and support materials, as well as leaders with solid communication skills and good follow-through.
- Two-way communication – Good communication is not a one-way street, but encourages conversation and feedback. While it may not be possible to engage with every individual in your organization, make sure you’re building in ways for people to make their voices heard, and to welcome their energy and ideas into the process.
The sweet spot is finding channels that work for your project, that you and your leaders enjoy using, and that work culturally for your organization. If you’re a strong writer, a blog may be your best bet. If you’re good in conversation, a video interview or podcast may be more your style. If you’re tech savvy, look to social media. The platforms you enjoy using and that play to your strengths are the ones you’ll use consistently.
As organizations grow, communicating can become more complex and diffuse. Having communications professionals integrated into the change effort, supporting your initiative’s leaders, can avoid missteps and ensure quality and consistency. However, for organizations of any size, clear, consistent, frequent communication—the first element in our CLEAR model— is a key factor for successful change. Being intentional and disciplined in your approach to communication accelerates your ability to make meaningful change happen.
Read the next article in the series:
A CLEAR Model for Change, Part 2: Leadership