How do you communicate change in your organisation? What have you learned from change comms campaigns in your current or previous role and what top tips would you pass on to other communicators?
Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at IC Excellence in front of 200 Government communicators here in the UK. One of the people in the room was super smart Rosemary Scott @Rose01, (pictured) who I met in person for the first time at Culturevist in January, and again in February.
During the lunch break at IC Excellence, we got chatting about some of the work she has been doing. I wanted to find out more, so encouraged Rosemary to share her story and am delighted to say she’s done exactly that. So here she writes for my blog on all things internal comms and change at Westminster City Council in London, UK.
Over to you Rosemary…
What I’ve learned about communicating change
Like many IC professionals, it wasn’t the career path I had planned for myself, but I’m now in my 9th year and it has turned out to be one I am extremely passionate about.
I began my career in Switzerland working in the private sector, I then moved to Australia and worked for two federal government agencies. I returned to London in 2012, and after temping, I found myself working at Westminster City Council.
In my organisation I am responsible for the change communications for 11 programmes – and counting. They cover the full spectrum of organisational change from customer services, technology, process and people.
So for someone new to change comms it was a fast track learning opportunity! My organisation has just over 2000 employees, many of who are in frontline service roles. This makes it difficult to use the standard e-channels to reach the entire population.
Below are the key things I have learnt that I would recommend to anyone else embarking on change communications for the first time.
1. Build an internal network
I quickly built relationships with the change and project management unit who fortunately understood the importance of employee engagement in change.
Through them I was able to build direct relationships with the programme teams and work with them in a collaborative way, providing comms advice and support. This avoided the common problem of being asked to deliver comms only at the end of a programme.
I felt it was important that I truly understood the changes taking place in order to anticipate how staff would feel about them.
2. Engaging for Success
When you first look up the definition of change you find “to make or become different”. At its core, communications is the sharing or exchanging of information, news or ideas.
The key distinction between ‘business as usual’ communications and change communications is engagement. People are instinctively wary of change, resist it and fear it.
If you can engage staff in change then it’s no longer something being done to them but rather something they are helping to enact.
If you need to argue the business case for resources to delivery change communications, reference David MacLeod who states in his ‘Engaging for Success‘ report, getting innovation and change through an organisation requires engagement. (You can read numerous articles I’ve published on engagement below – Rachel).
It makes business sense to invest in engagement activities; we know staff who are engaged perform better leading to financial success, but they are also more creative which leads to innovation, and are more likely to be advocates for the organisation and be proud of where they work.
Work with the programme teams to identify opportunities for engagement.
Perhaps there are elements of the programme that staff could be consulted on or could they be part of a pilot study or what can they do to help support their teams through change locally.
The people programme and I established a senior level network and middle management level network to have direct contact with more staff.
- The senior level network is informed of the business case for change, the benefits and are asked to endorse it locally.
- The middle management level network is there to test ideas, gather feedback, and take action to help implement change locally.
By establishing an open dialogue around change you increase transparency of decision making which can help reassure staff.
3. Keep it simple, stupid
Keep your objectives simple and your language plain. Staff want to know what is happening, why and what it means to them.
Messages around change need to be authentic and honest so acknowledge what’s not working; it’s unlikely that staff don’t already know this!
After all, change is not introduced where organisations are working at their optimum and where there is no room for improvement.
Give context to the change. Perhaps the changes are a direct result of staff feedback which certainly makes it easier to answer the why question or they may be as a result of fiscal challenges that are out of the organisations control, but nevertheless mean it has to adapt its ways of working.
4. Tell stories
Successful communication action needs a narrative and to be linked to the business strategy. Create a ‘golden thread’ or narrative to the change by linking the business case for change to the organisations vision and strategy and any outside influences, such as the economy or customer behaviour.
Tell a story if possible about how there may be short term pain now but long term gain later, that the changes are to protect the future of the organisation.
What does that future look like, can you paint a picture? Staff will need to understand and support the long term view, especially if they’ve been through change in the past and failed to see the benefits.
This is where you can get creative and think about the communications as a campaign with branding, its own events and new channels for communicating change. A distinct identity will help bring a sense of order and process, that the changes are well thought out and that staff are part of the process.
Also try to put a face to the campaign, get senior management sponsorship – a sense of accountability also instils confidence in staff that someone is responsible for seeing it through.
One of my first change comms initiatives was to dress the main office building and increase awareness of the change portfolio. For this I developed a brand, narrative and promotional collateral.
Working with the design team we decided to go bold as change had been tried before but not on this scale or with senior leadership endorsement.
We needed staff to take this new change portfolio seriously. So I had boards stuck up in every lift lobby and large floor stickers (pictured), posters in kitchens, branding and articles on our intranet.
As change is being piloted or rolled out seek out staff case studies to share. This peer-to-peer conversation will engage better with staff and is a great way of sharing the authentic experience of change. Make sure you get across the message that not all change is to be feared, that this change is for the better.
5. It’s good to talk
I followed up the awareness activities with an event for staff to find out more and ask their questions. Rather than having staff talked at via a presentation, the format was like a market, with programme teams on hand to talk to staff and demo what they could.
Many programmes had online elements so they were able to make the event truly interactive and all attendees were given an infographic of the changes. Around 200 staff dropped in during the 1.5 hour event and we had very positive feedback from staff and the programme teams, the format really allowed a conversation to take place.
It can be difficult to keep the momentum up when many of the programmes reached certain stages, the programme teams might be hard at work but there wasn’t anything new to inform staff of or show them.
During these periods, it is still important to keep staff informed and not let them feel they aren’t being kept in the loop. These are also good times to do more targeted communications via the staff networks or talking to key teams that you anticipate needing more support with the changes.
So there you have it, my experience of change communications. In summary, you can soon get bogged down with academic papers like the MacLeod report, which are all excellent reads, but when it comes down to it, there’s no getting away from what staff really want to know – which is:
what does it mean for me?
If you don’t address that question then it doesn’t matter how flash your change comms channels are, so be honest and timely in your change communications.
Post author: Rosemary Scott.
Thank you for giving us a look into some of the work that has been happening at Westminster City Council Rosemary. I’m sure that readers of my blog will take away lots of good info from what you’ve written. Got a question for her? You’re welcome to comment below, Tweet me @AllthingsIC or Rosemary @Rose01.
Further reading about employee engagement on my blog
If you want to read more about employee engagement, see my previous articles and resources page:
- Why well-being matters for employee engagement
- How to engage people with disabilities
- Engaging for success in Italy – overview of my visit to Rome to help launch their version of E4S.
- Employee engagement and social media – overview of the Social Summer talk I gave in 2013.
- BlogTalkRadio – weekly radio show, Monday 4pm BST, on employee engagement. Includes a listen again feature
- How to engage for success
- Milan social media week: Italy gets engaged
- Engaging workplaces for a sustainable future
- The Sunday night blues.
Further reading on change on my blog
- Communicating change at the BBC
- Communicating change at the Washington Post
- Strategy in action – the Vodafone way
- How TfL is communicating 24 hour Tube changes internally
- Recommended reads on World Book Day 2014.
Published 18 March 2014.