There is ample warning in the change management literature of the potential disaster that is “under communication”. Rosabeth Kanter and John Kotter both note the criticality of communication to the success of organisational change. Poor communication of change is repeatedly cited as a core driver of change cynicism, apathy, anxiety and uncertainty based stress. When a change communication vacuum occurs, it is inevitable filled with rumour, gossip and misinformation. It’s human nature to “fill the gaps”.
But we hear little of the perils of “over communicating”. While many say you can’t over communicate during change, I argue that you can. Over communicating can also create anxiety, frustration, and cynicism. The negative effects of over communication result when:
- Management push a line that does not resonate with the employees (spin)
- The project team has neglected the awareness and understanding phase of change and have jumped straight to trying to sell messages to gain commitment (here’s why you must love this change, without introducing the change first)
- The timing of the communication is mis-aligned with the tempo of the change (bi weekly huddles with nothing to say)
- The channels used are not the preferred channels of the employees (ten daily emails could have been replaced by one serious conversation)
- The source of the change communication is not well respected (blah, blah, he’s talking again…)
- There is so much competing messages about various change projects they all blur into one big transformational white noise!
So how do you manage the Goldilocks version of change communication? Where what you deliver is “just right”? It’s actually harder than it looks and where change people with communication expertise are well worth the investment. Some of the things to look out for are:
- A change communication strategy that is developed after research has been conducted on the change audiences – what their communicative preferences are (source, frequency, channels, jargon and language)
- And understanding of the communicative climate – what is acceptable and also taboo.
- An understanding of the balance between dialogue and top down messaging
- A communications plan tailored to the different stages of change commitment
- The change communication plan has been reviewed and approved by the people you want to communicate to and with (not the project team / managers)
- A communication calendar which maps the various messaging from all the various initiatives and provides opportunity to “cluster” the messages for simplicity sake.
Well that’s my thoughts, what of you, when have you seen damage done by “over communicating”? What are your tips on getting it “just right”?
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