Communication Failure will Sabotage Your Change Efforts: How to Avoid it

Albert B. Blixt
Coach and Consultant on Innovation and Change

If you are frustrated that your executive team members say they are on the same page with you but are not delivering the results you need, you are not alone. If you struggle to get your change vision down to the front line staff, you are not alone.  Here is a guide for taking charge of your communication to inspire, engage and move change efforts from talk to results.

The Leading Innovation and Change Communication Planning Guide was written for our clients but we want to share it with you. Use it to take charge of your communications so you can inspire, engage and move institutional change efforts from talk to results. Share it with your executive team and with those who will help with your communication efforts including PR staff and anyone who will speak for you. Apply it to any communication related to your change effort at every stage of the change journey.

Communication Planning Guide Summary

Download Full PDF Communication Planning Guide

1. Purpose
Why are you speaking/writing to this audience? Write down the outcomes that will tell you this communication has been a success.  If you don’t make explicit your reasons and expectations, don’t expect your audience to read your mind.

2. Audience
Your message will be filtered through the perceptive lenses of your audience. What you say may not be what they hear. There is a big difference between your senior leadership team and your faculty or staff as an audience. How you communicate with them must take account of those differences. Ask these questions:

  • What style will this group relate to best? Should message be casual, formal, humorous or something else?  What will make you most credible?
  • What does this audience know about the change that is planned? What rumors have circulated?
  • Will they be receptive or skeptical of this initiative? How will the past history of change efforts color their perception?
  • What interests of your audience could be affected (positively or negatively) if this change is successful? Remember W.I.I.F.M. (What’s in it for me?). Why should this audience care about your message?

3. Channel
Where will you meet your audience where they can really “tune in” to your message? In the digital age the delivery modality includes both face-to-face and every form of digital.  Large or small group meetings have the virtue of everyone hearing the message at the same time knowing that others have heard it too. Digital media can be synchronous (webinar or webcast) or asynchronous (email, tweet, video on the net, etc.) but in any case, the digital listener is likely to be alone and not able to interact fully with other audience members. It is likely that you will want to use more than one channel depending on your audience and how important it is to sustain your message over time.  Recording your message on video or as a podcast is a great way to make sure your message gets to those who may see it later without other people filtering it.

4. Message
A big part of your role as leader is to be the champion of this change initiative.  While messaging will change over the weeks, months or years that this initiative is underway, the basic format at every stage will include the following:

  • Why? Stress the real reason why we are doing this work. Describe the need, the opportunity and what success will look like and the benefits that will come from making the change. How will our students, staff, or faculty benefit when this change is in place?
  • Where we are now? Describe the change as a journey. Use a change roadmap to let people see where they are on the pathway. This includes facts about the current situation and recognition of progress made at each stage.
  • What’s next? Describe immediate next steps on the roadmap and describes the roles that members of the audience will play in advancing the change effort.  At the end is a call to action in which the leader describes what all of this means for each member of the audience and leaves open the opportunity for each person to have input and make their own contribution.

5. Feedback
People will support what they help to create. Outstanding communicators must also be great listeners. Use communication to invite others to make their voices heard.  Communicate through forums that are interactive and provide participants the opportunity to ask questions, to make suggestions and to plan actions. Stress that the change process is also about continuous learning.  There are many ways to invite feedback on the plan for change.  This can happen in a large group meeting by having small groups provide advice on what to add, change or delete to the plan.

6. Timing
When is the best time to deliver this particular message? If it’s a meeting, consider time of the day, day of the week, or even time of year. How much time will this take? Will this be a special meeting called just for this purpose or will it be built into an already scheduled meeting or event?  The more you need to engage your audience, the more time should be set aside.  Avoid schedule conflicts such as the start or end of term and before or after holidays.  Preview your communication with your senior team before going to a larger public so sequencing is also a consideration.  Timing considerations connect directly with the next step of choosing communications channels.

7. Walk the Talk
The more important the change effort, the more essential it is that the leader is highly visible in supporting it. This means making resources available and making adjustments in roles, responsibilities, rewards and recognition that provide clarity and incentives for those who must support the change. Outstanding leaders recognize that the command-and-control leadership style is offensive and counter-productive with newer employee generations.

Download Full PDF Communication Planning Guide