The communication challenge: 6 principles to make your change message heard

It is not unusual for project teams to sacrifice communication efforts whenever there are time constraints or budget issues. It is also common for teams to assume that a single communication event is enough to change people’s behaviors. The truth is that the failure to communicate effectively can jeopardize your project, disengaging people and putting your reputation at risk.

In this blog, we review 6 principles that will help you communicate with impact in your next change initiative.

  1. Start with a vision

A vison will guide the development of a consistent change message to be shared. Ask yourself “what is the purpose of this change?”, “what benefits will it bring?”, “where do we wish to go?” To test your vision, remember John Kotter’s rule: if you can’t communicate your vision in five minutes or less and achieve understanding from others, go back to your drawing board.

  1. Make your change message meaningful and actionable  

Draft your message so that it is easy to understand and relevant to your intended audience. Short, actionable, messages are more effective than long, complicated ones that may be “technically” more accurate but difficult to follow. Consider addressing some of the “W” questions that are usually asked by people “what are we doing”, “why is this happening”, “when is the change taking”, “what’s in it for me”, or “what do I need to do.”

  1. Select the right sender

If you want people to register your change message, choose your sender wisely. Research from Prosci suggests that employees want to hear from their sponsor when it comes to the business issues that triggered the change. Whereas, they prefer to hear from their immediate supervisor if the message discusses how the change will personally impact them. Resist the easy choice of giving the communication role to the project manager or project team, who may not in the best position to communicate the change.

  1. Phase out your communication efforts

Tie your communications to milestones in your project. This will help you find the right timing for each communication, preventing you from being too soon (and losing momentum in the long run) or too late (and making people resentful). Start by drafting a communication plan and defining short-term goals for each phase of the project.

  1. Repeat. Repeat.

Don’t be afraid to repeat your message. It takes time for people to register it. Only after their first exposure to new information, people start to make sense of it. Redundancy gives your messages more chances of being heard. Remember: people have different ways of taking in information, so use a variety of channels to deliver your change message (e.g., written memos, face to face talks, visual alternatives). Written communications are usually the least effective of all methods.

  1. Avoid “re-inventing the wheel”

Most organizations have found effective ways to communicate information. For some, it’s using email, for others the most effective methods are face to face gatherings, whereas, for certain ones, collaboration tools are the way to go. Spend some time upfront understanding what channels work in your organization and leverage the channels that already exists, rather than creating new ones. This will increase your probability of success and duplicating efforts.

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