CIO Leadership, IT Performance

CIO best practices for effectively communicating for organizational change

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 “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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Martin Davis 131 Points | Fri, 04/20/2012 - 14:35

Joshua, excellent post and great advice. The root of most problems with change is fear and resistance, this is alleviated by communications and involvement (as explained in more detail through my recent posts).


As Pearl mentions, I have been blogging quite a bit recently on Change Management, and even something simple like the project name sends a communications message (see my recent post


Your messages have to be clear and understood to help drive your success.

Joshua Brusse 33 Points | Fri, 04/20/2012 - 15:54

Thanks Martin I have been reading your posts and they are indeed interesting. You have mentioned in those post that its not the fear for change but the fear for the unknown that creates the resistance so that’s the most important thing you need to address (as you again can read in the reply from Louise). There are many techniques you can use to effectively communicate and – more important – measure how effective you are. I for sure will write about that

Pearl Zhu 90 Points | Thu, 04/19/2012 - 16:40

Hi, enjoy your 5W+1H approach for change mangement best practices, to transform change models and theories into the daily practices with tangible result.

Change is also about sharing, as you and Martin (the other blogger in this forum) did to share the resources, succuss story  about chang management to make it happen smoothly. thanks

Joshua Brusse 33 Points | Fri, 04/20/2012 - 15:59

Thanks Pearl. Sharing! A keyword indeed. What is fundamental for that is that leaders “walk the talk” and thus not assume that communication is taken care of. Also leaders need continually and consciously build the change network that will then automatically increase the sharing. As the saying goes “two know more than one”. Imagine is 2 becomes 4, 4 becomes 8, 8 becomes 16…how powerful is that.

Louise Ng 8 Points | Thu, 04/19/2012 - 03:45

Joshua thank you for your post on effective communication!

Yes. Over the years of observing and participating in multiple enterprise Transformation events some very important learnings have correlated directly to the perspective you've brought forward.

The first observation is communication patterns are driven by culture.  Cultures based on geography and culture based on operational style make a difference in how to communicate, what to communicate and when to communicate.  

Some cultures thrive on consensus, some on dictatorship and some fall inbetween the two extremes .  These style differences affect the methods and formats of communication activities.  Directive mandates, methodical decision analysis or collaborative town halls all work in the atmoshpere that reaches the aligned cultural audience.

As you noted, a Communication Plan is an important part of Transformation and one might even say it is the most Critical Success Factor for any transition that involves people. 

It's not enough to focus on the technology and process during a transformation as we have all observed over the years. 

People working in their roles and understanding their responsibilities as a result of change are part of the Communication Plan and another key Critical Success Factor.

People adoption and consumption of change due to process and technology improvements is sometimes forgotten in the scheme of Transformation.

Sensitivity to the impact to people's day to day has often been an after thought or minimized to a set of acceptance test cases and a train the trainer event.  This is one of the most prevelant issues causing transition and transformation drag and sometimes even failure.

A strong Communication Plan includes a method to document and explain a Transition Strategy and Training Strategy that set clear expectations for the people affected by the Transformation.

The reason I make these points about Communication and Organizational Change is because I've seen enterprise fail due to the PEOPLE factor. 

Tools and Processes even though built and tested effectively with zero defects are not the magic to successful Transformation.  Behind the curtain are the real magic makers that hold the keys to success - the people that connect the tools to the processes.

Joshua Brusse 33 Points | Fri, 04/20/2012 - 16:11

Thanks Louise. Enterprise fail due to neglecting the PEOPLE factor. So true! Assisting people going through a transformation is indeed an afterthought but even if it’s not, many organizations can’t get their head around how to do it. Or – worse – they don’t want to spend the budget on it…while spending approximately 10% more (that’s what “dealing with the people stuff” cost on top of your already approved budget) has an ROI of 140% according to industry analysts.  

Besides Communication Plan there must be an engagement plan and there must be an communication and engagement strategy. You see, the main reason why we have the illusion that communication has been taken care of is because we leave it at communication and we fail to engage. This is the main gap in many transformation methods: engaging with stakeholders helping them to go through the – sometimes emotional – change curve. I will write about this in one of my next blogs