One of the primary avenues for influencing change is to communicate, communicate, communicate. Unfortunately, communication can’t all come from a centralized, official source to ensure it stays aligned and accurate.
You need managers throughout the organization to communicate change to demonstrate its importance and to make it more relevant for their teams. The challenge is how to cascade communication throughout the organization without it becoming a game of Operator, with the message getting garbled as it spreads.
There are a lot of reasons why managers are not great at communicating change, for example:
- They feel some resistance toward it themselves
- They are uncomfortable communicating a topic that may be received negatively by their team
- They don’t have time
- They don’t remember to do it
- They believe minimal communication is enough
- They may misunderstand it themselves
- They put their own spin on it, potentially rendering it confusing and misaligned with the original intent.
So then, how do you get managers across an organization to communicate effectively about the change initiative, tailoring the message to make it relevant for their teams, but without going too far out of bounds?
The following are some ways you can help managers spread the word effectively:
- Gain commitment and address their concerns before asking them to communicate with their teams.
- Share why it is important for them to communicate about change.
- Give them time to process it and figure out how it affects their team. Don’t announce it to them and then expect them to immediately go communicate it, unless the change requires it.
- Don’t assume they are comfortable communicating, especially if it makes them look like the bad guy or if it inconveniences their team. Provide guidelines for how to communicate difficult topics.
- Equip them with key messages or themes. Delineate what is essential to communicate and where they need to customize for their team.
- Don’t just provide facts. Let them know how people should feel about it to help them frame it.
- Provide answers to frequently asked questions.
- Share tips for how to overcome objections and resistance.
- Give them an opportunity to practice communicating. Role play a meeting.
- Set expectations around how and how often they will communicate.
- Remind them to communicate. Even good intentions get lost in a busy schedule.
- Ask them to go beyond just delivering the message. Change communication includes linking the change to everyday work on a regular basis, role modeling the change themselves, addressing concerns, and holding people accountable for implementing change.
- Include what not to say. For example, ask them not to blame someone else for making them implement the change.
- Provide facilitator guides for communication meetings to create an opportunity for discovery and conversation, instead of just telling people about it.
- Distribute a video about the change with discussion questions.
- Collect and share examples of managers who have communicated change well.
- Get managers together to discuss what and how they will communicate, so they can gain agreement and alignment.
- Be in the room. If you’re concerned about managers going off script, or they are uncomfortable doing it, you can deliver the message yourself with managers there to offer and demonstrate their support.
- Provide a way to share feedback to the project team, so you can learn and adjust.
Those who have authority in your organization are crucial communicators of change. They can be roadblocks, or they can be conduits of information and enthusiasm. Your responsibility as a change agent is to gain their commitment — not only commitment to the change but to communicating it — and to equip managers to balance customization and alignment.
This article is part of the #ChangeBlogChallenge on the topic of Change Communication. Click here to see what other change thinkers say about this topic. Are you participating in the #ChangeBlogChallenge? Feel free to leave the link to your communication blog in the comments.
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