I hope you’re having a wonderful start to 2016. I feel like I’m in a whirlwind already and were not even at the end of January! The rest of the year is certainly shaping up to be very exciting.
One thing that’s struck me from the outset is the number of businesses and organizations going through large amounts of change this year. In some cases it’s because of new government policies like the beginning of the NDIS Scheme, or for many councils in NSW it’s to do with possible mergers and amalgamations - or maybe it’s just adapting to the continual onslaught of new technology.
Whatever the reasons, there’s a good chance your organization is about to embark on, or is maybe already in the middle of, big change.
Communication is always important, but it’s never more crucial than when there’s change going on - when people are feeling uncertain, their positions or futures are under threat, and you’re wanting to get them on board with new ways of doing things.
I’ve been involved in many large-scale changes over the years and there’s no perfect formula to make them go smoothly. Lets face it - more often than not, they don’t go smoothly at all! But here are some ways to contribute to implementing change with the least possible aggravation:
1. Communicate often and little. Just like a healthy, varied diet - where rather than having great big meals when you’re ravenous you benefit from smaller, more frequent meals - you need to communicate regularly about the change, without expecting people to digest huge amounts of information every time.
Remember, silence breeds uncertainty. Even if you don’t have the answers, it’s important to communicate something useful, even if it’s telling people you don’t yet have the answers! Use a variety of communication channels, and make sure you have messages going out thick and fast, just a few points at a time. Use all the avenues available to you in your organization, taking account of the fact that different people absorb information in different ways, and everyone has their own preference for how they prefer to receive information about a change.
Remember, often and little. Don’t overwhelm people with too much at a time, and vary your methods.
2. Having said that, point number two is, make face-to-face communication your first choice for conveying difficult information.
So often we immediately launch into emails or other forms of digital communication because they’re quick, easy and convenient and we can reach a large amount of people in one go. But easy isn’t necessarily best at sensitive times of change.
Somebody once said to me that “when the chips are down, make sure you communicate in an environment where you can see the whites of the other person’s eyes. ” That’s always stuck with me.
When information is likely to be upsetting or uncomfortable, the worst thing you can do is fire out an email and hope people absorb it in a positive way. They won’t. You need to have conversations, and this can be a challenge because many of us go to great lengths to avoid difficult face-to-face encounters.
Whether it’s a change in your immediate team, you’re managing communication for a large organization or you’re the owner of a small business, have conversations first with individuals and small groups and back them up with written communication.
If you are communicating by email, don’t send an encyclopaedia in one sitting. Break the information into small chunks in a series of messages.
Don’t just think about the words – consider what’s going on around the words. Make the message easy on the eye, using large headings, sub-headings to break up the text, and colours to break up sections (don’t go garish!)
Keep each email to a maximum of four, well-crafted paragraphs and use links to other information rather than large slabs of text. Make it interactive – include ways to field questions or refer your readers to someone who can help them if they need more information.
These techniques don’t mean you’re “dumbing down” your message. In fact, you’re showing respect for your reader by making it less hard work to digest your content.
3. And the third tip is, don’t be afraid to use video. You know, these days video is such an important way of communicating and it can be very effective for getting quick snippets of information out in times of change.
I see many businesses make the mistake of embarking on elaborate video productions that go for ten, twenty even thirty minutes. By doing that, they're wasting money and missing the mark.
Attention spans have shrunk in proportion to everyone’s increasing time poverty. The good news is, these days it’s very easy to get a 20-30 second video with a key person explaining one point about the change. It doesn’t have to be cinematic movie quality - just do it on your phone. The focus is on accessing information quickly and easily.
Getting a person on video is the next best thing to face-to-face communication. You can connect with people at an emotional level - and no doubt they are feeling emotional because it’s a time of change. It’s also never been easier to post videos, and people love to share them.
Change is never easy, but people are generally more accepting of difficult news than they are of an information vacuum which only breeds animosity and more uncertainty.
So, encourage your executives to communicate often and little. If you're the driver of your business bus, communicate often and little yourself. Try to communicate in person where you can, and use technologies like video to good effect.
May all your changes in 2016 be positive ones!