Communicating changes effectively is a challenge!
We’ve all been stuck on a train. Now imagine that the conductor announces this, “Ladies and gentlemen, very sorry for the delay. I’m not sure why we are being delayed. I’m not sure how long the delay will be. I can’t promise when I will have more information. I may (or may not) communicate something useful at some point.”
This kind of communication creates questions and angst!
If you are making changes in your business, communicating changes clearly is critical. But it is also crucial to ensure that you have some meaningful material to communicate. This tension leads to a very common problem in communicating changes… How long do we wait before we communicate?
Here are 7 tips to communicate enough information with sufficient clarity at the right time.
1.Plan your communications.
Any big change will require a mix of structured (more formal) and informal communication. A simple communication plan should cover what you want to say, how you want to say it and when to best communicate changes. Consider key partners, suppliers and customers too. Don’t wait to start communicating, but be honest what you can say with confidence from the outset.
2.Don’t underestimate the value face to face communication.
When you are a small enough business, you might find that communicating changes personally is easy. However, it is a temptation to rely on electronic communication as your organisation grows. Especially if you have people in the field, or in other locations. There are many great tools for virtual communication. But don’t underestimate the value of face to face dialogue. So much of what we communicate is non-verbal.
3.Beware assumptions when communicating changes!
If communication is the oil of change, then assumptions can be the grit in the engine! Explore what assumptions people might make about a change. Get those out on the table. Communicating change face-to-face helps understand the assumptions your audience are making. Assumptions can be really helpful. They help to shortcut long decision making processes. However, they also create the risk of miscommunication if they aren’t clear and understood.
4.Consider communication preferences.
You will have a mixture of “information preferences” when communicating changes. Some people are happy to chat things out. Others need some time to process and respond. Some are happy to voice their view in groups. Others need to be provided more private channels.
5.Use a variety of approaches.
Use numerous communication channels (with a consistent message). Use different media to suit different preferences (a good mix of text, video, face to face where possible). Don’t be afraid to use social media if your audience is used to it as a channel.
6.Beware bad slides.
Nothing says, “I don’t really care about this change,” like overly detailed, poorly constructed slides. I’m not saying you need a professional presentation, but slides should enhance communication. Try to go for one or two relevant images and focus on demonstrating that the change means something to you. Think TED talk. Not classroom lecture.
7.Answer the “which means what?” question.
I was listening to a senior executive today from Marks and Spencer. He explained their internal mantra, “making every moment special.” M&S have a sound bite, nothing unusual about that. But critically they have answered the “which means what?” question. Staff understand what each word means. Thus, staff understand that making requires action to be taken. Every requires consistently good service and so on. Therefore, each word has a meaning, which can be translated into behaviour.