A characteristic of successful change programmes is the use of a full range of communication approaches deployed effectively. Some people only believe that change is going to happen if they read it in black and white. Other people need to hear directly from a respected leader before they recognise that change is inevitable. Some people need a closely argued case before they will be convinced. Others need to know the headlines and be reassured that the details have been thought through.

There is a risk of seeing communication as an optional extra when it is central to the successful development and implementation of any change programme. Communication needs to cover why, what, how and when. The constant repetition of key messages is often necessary for people to understand that change is for real. Working in tandem to create convincing visual, oral and written messaging is fundamental.

Each person involved in a change programme needs to understand their role in effective communication and how what they say and do is being interpreted by others.

Effective feedback is important on which aspects of communication are working well and which are creating more problems than they are solving. There is a balance to be struck between a consistent form of communication that is trusted, and using a variety of approaches which catch people’s attention. One such example is through storytelling in business. When done well, business storytelling gives a compelling reason for consumers to buy from you.

Here's an example to illustrate this.

Bill held open meetings with staff when he visited each of the offices that were going to be affected. He let people know in advance that he was coming so that they could think through the issues they wanted to raise. Bill listened carefully to what people said and was as explicit as possible about next steps. When an issue had not yet been decided, Bill was open about why that was the case.

Bill sent out periodic, written communications, as he knew that he could only be present in the different offices on an occasional basis. He kept the communications short. It was better for meetings to be short and often than occasional and long-winded. Bill set up a blog in which he shared different stories about the potential effects and benefits of moving to more flexible working arrangements.

In practice:

  • Draw from best practice in terms of how change programmes have used different communication methods.
  • Be deliberate in using a wide variety of communication approaches.
  • When you visit sites that are likely to be significantly affected, use this as an opportunity to maximise face-to-face communication.
  • Keep getting feedback about which forms of communication are working most effectively.
  • Be willing to quickly adapt your communication approaches in the light of feedback.