Change communication – Once upon a time there was …THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST

You are undoubtedly aware of the importance of communication as a means of creating support for change. But why is good communication such a challenge during change? Why does a change have to be explained so often? Why does it seem like your communication has missed its mark over time? The “fairy tale” below tells the story about the number of the devil (666). It will give you an insight into one of the most common pitfalls in change communication. Hopefully it can help you in better understanding why change communication is not as easy as it seems.

Once upon a time, there was a company that, after years of success, saw its results decline. The numbers deteriorated to such an extent that the CEO became worried. Ultimately, she saw no other option than to hire a strategic consultant to help her set-up a plan of action to get the organization back on track. The consultant enthusiastically got to work and after six months (the first “6”) of in-depth market research, SWOT analysis, organizational review, discussions with the management team, competitive analysis,… it became clear that a major change was needed.

The CEO, together with the management team, immediately started to translate the much-needed change into a strategy. During an intensive six-days off site (the second “6”), senior management translated this change into concrete actions for their respective department/domain. They were all satisfied with the results achieved and ready for the next step: informing middle management that change was imminent. As soon as possible, each of the managers organized a meeting for his / her department. During an inspiring six-hour session they shared the change with the team managers. Interesting discussions were held, a lot of feedback was collected and the team managers were asked to share the story of the change with their team during their next team meeting, so that everyone in the organization would be aware of the upcoming change.

Peter, one of the team managers and a member of the middle management, had put the change on the agenda for his upcoming team meeting. However, that team meeting started with an overview and report of the many operational problems team member Nicolas was facing. Everyone present was very much invested to help Nicolas out and get the operational situation back under control. Without anyone really noticing, time flew by…. Just before the end of the team meeting, Peter remembered he still had to talk about the change, since that was what he agreed with his manager. So for the remaining 6 minutes he talked with great enthusiasm about the imminent changes .

A week after the CEO had been assured that every team manager had discussed the change with his / her team (and therefore everyone was aware), she talked to Alan (a member of Peter’s team) at the coffee machine. A great opportunity to ask Alan what he thought of the change. “What change?” Alan replied ….

Of course this is a witticism, but hopefully it will clarify a pitfall. As a change manager you often have a big advantage (especially at the start of a change process) compared to many others within the organization. A head start in terms of available information, time available to adapt to the change,… .

Sharing and communicating information takes time. It is a story of repeating, of listening, of searching for the right language, … Efforts that contribute substantially to a successful process. So do not expect that after 1 communication moment all employees “understand” the change.

Would you like to read more about communication during change? Then take a look at this article about the center of gravity of a communication.