Five Tips for Improving Business Communications
Effective communications are essential for any change management initiative to succeed, because all businesses are based on their people and how well they interact. Given that context, here are five tips for achieving better communications, based on practitioner experience and benchmarking data taken from ChangeManagement.com
Plan Out Your Communications
– Business communications should not be made in an ad hoc, willy-nilly fashion. Develop a clear communications plan and decide on the best sequence of messages to make your points before you start messaging. An effective communications plan should first address the reasons for undertaking the change initiative and how it may affect people. The next phase of communications will dig into the details of the solution and its various technical components. A third phase may involve analysis of project progress and a discussion of any roadblocks.
The audience is another important aspect of communications planning. Messages with similar content might be crafted differently, based on the type of audience. In general, communications should first be directed at senior leaders, and then middle managers, and then front-line employees. The information delivery should be closely aligned with project benchmarks and deadlines to help make sense of the process for everyone, and to align mutual efforts by all members of the team.
– Provide updates to team members even when you lack complete information or you are unsure about the final outcome. If employees don’t know the answers to questions, they will start inventing their own incorrect conclusions in many cases. Communicating a message that management does not have a clear view into upcoming decisions but will share that information when it’s available is a better approach than not communicating at all and leaving people to wonder. Being forthright from the start will help curb incorrect information from clouding the project discussion.
– Regular ongoing communications are critical to keeping everyone on the same page throughout a change management initiative. Consider the first time that people hear about a change initiative, they may overlook the rationale behind it because they are only filled with concerns about how it will affect their personal jobs and lives. Therefore, it may take a second, third or fourth explanation for people to grasp the underlying motives behind the change. In fact, experts say that key messages should be communicated five to seven times in order to be effective.
For instance, an email notice may precede a video message from the CEO to set up a kickoff meeting for a wide-ranging, all-hands discussion. Then the team may split into project groups for specific discussions about their project deliverables, which then get sent back up to the senior leaders for review and approval. Throughout each step, an underlying foundational message can be reinforced by management.
Respond Directly to Questions and Feedback
– Clearly express the high-level reasons for making the change and the personal impacts it could have on team members, but leave aside the specific details at first. Also, recognize that communications cannot just involve one-way monologues – they should be interactive dialogues that give employees a chance to react and ask questions.
Structured communications plans should also address employee questions in a logical order: Why are we changing, and what are the risks of maintaining the status quo? How will I be impacted, and what’s in it for me? How will this change improve outcomes for both the company and its employees? Only after these broad general questions are answered should management roll out the specific details about executing the initiative.
Use Preferred Senders
– Employees will want to hear from certain people in the organization, depending on the type and timing of the message. For instance, employees usually want to communicate with their direct supervisors about how the change will affect them personally, but they prefer to hear from senior managers and executive leadership to articulate the company’s overarching vision and mission. Relying on preferred senders can help ensure that such messages are received as they are intended.
No change management project is undertaken lightly, due to the related difficulties and hardships. However, developing a clear communications plan in advance can help reduce internal friction and align team members to work together toward a common goal.