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Comms: why are you making them do it?

Comms: why are you making them do it?

Nicola Hopes

29 June 2021

As you may know, I’m doing some research into how change is, well, changing and in a recent interview something really struck a chord with me:

“In the past our programme comms was always criticised. We felt we could never do enough. We had all the technical capability to deliver but we just weren’t engaging people... until we realised that project managers aren’t always great at comms, so why are we making them do it!?”

It sounded like such a familiar story.

We assume that those leading change (sponsors, programme / project managers, product owners) know their topic so well that if we put them in front of a town hall or Teams audience, they’ll nail it right?

Wrong.

If you think about what the average person needs out of comms:
1. Does this excite me?
2. What does this mean?
3. How does this affect me?
… you don’t actually need lots of detail, you just need to be engaging.

Research from McKinsey and Company shows that 70% of all transformations fail – and not communicating a powerful vision is a key contributing factor.

Ouch.

So, while we’re worrying about plans, costs, benefits and risks we’re overlooking this key enabler to our success.

Reach for the bat phone

So, how to improve this critical part of making change stick?

Based on my experience, here are some tried and tested ways to up your change comms game. Here goes…

1. Let the experts be expert

In the example above, the Director in charge of change re-designed her team to include those with people and comms skills and created the role of a change comms specialist.

That specialist gets up in the morning thinking about how to engage people in change – I like to think they sprinkle comms fairy dust over their porridge, but I may have seen too many animated movies!

Not all change leaders have the budget or mandate to do that… but you can find the people who are natural communicators, those who are the first to volunteer for team meetings and socials, the people who have others’ ear.

These are the natural change agents who make people listen. Second them in – even if you have to cross their palm with silver!

2. Who’s the stuffed shirt?

When it comes to engagement in change, local is best.

Anyone who has swanned over from head office to an operational part of an organisation and tried to talk to them about the ‘exciting’ thing you’re up will back me up here. Blank faces are about the best you can hope for. Some may just laugh in your face.

Answer = outsource it.

Find the people who talk their language. Who get their culture. Who can translate the beautiful slide pack you’ve produced into the two sentences they really care about.

More impact. More engagement.

3. Ask them if it’s working

Again, in the previous example – having created a change comms expert, they now include 3 questions on the change programme in their regular pulse survey. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive. But if it wasn’t they’d know quickly and be able to fix it.

You may not need a formal survey, you can select a sample of people from different divisions, you can run focus groups in teams…but you do need to ask the users of the change what’s working, what’s not working and what they understand.

If they don’t get it, they don’t use it.

4. Bore yourself stupid

Once your comms magician has set out the key messages about your vision, use them as the anchor point every time you talk about it – because your audience all have day jobs and they’ve forgotten what you said last time.

In summary, as John Powell said: “Communication works for those who work at it”. He’s right. But let’s make that work smart.

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