“The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it is taken care of.”

The quote above is one I heard years ago and it has proven true many times in my work with customers going through organizational change. Organizations–and their people –have the illusion that communication will magically happen somehow, as long as they have written and published their message. And it doesn’t!

Effective communication is an essential part of any effort toward transformational change. But if you’re simply publishing email blasts, you’re not really communicating. The problem lies with not thinking through what your communication objectives are and then not planning on how to meet them.

Understand your communication objectives

Effective communication should do three things no matter what kind of change you are making in your organization:

  • Make your audience aware of a coming change
  • Help them understand the change
  • Assist in internalization

Rule number one of effective communication is to always make sure that you know what you want to achieve with the communication. What is the WHY? Do you want your audience to respond? To take an action? To feel or think differently? Or do you simply want to inform them? 

The answer to these questions will direct the type, delivery method, style and frequency of your message. But without this kind of examination, your communication may not reach its target audience, may not feel relevant or may not bring about  the change you want.

Planning for communication along with transformation

You need to plan the communication strategy in the same way that you plan the strategy for change. . It needs to be done well ahead of time and be well integrated with the transformation.

At the most basic level, your plan should answer four essential questions. Ask yourself who must know what, when they should know it and how you will achieve that.

Here are some other pointers for devising your communications plan:

  • Develop a graphic representation or logo that you use on all communication related to the transformation. Keep it clear, simple and memorable. 
  • Explain the criteria for success and how it will be measured upfront. Define success clearly, devise metrics for progress toward the goal, and then measure and communicate the progress that has been made.
  • Explain how people will be rewarded for progress toward change goals. People need incentives for the added work and disruptions that change requires. Be sure to communicate successes!
  • Make communication a two-way proposition. So, if you are a change leader, spend at least as much time listening as telling. Your attention to this point will help keep others involved and motivated.


Measuring the results of communication

Unless you measure the results of your communication you won’t know whether you’ve reached your objectives. There are a number of simple ways you do this:

  • You can scientifically measure awareness of the information you wished do communicate by surveying people and asking them, Do you know about this or not?
  • The second element to measure is understanding: “Do you understand what this means?” Now you get into more subjective territory, because it involves people thinking and feeling about what a change means for the organization.
  • The third and final measure of effective communication is internalization: Has behavior actually changed? Here you need to come up with ways to measure people’s actions. This is usually a mix of subjective and objective measures.

I’ll write more about how to measure internalization in an upcoming post.

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