The Goldilocks test

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  • The channels used are not the preferred channels of the employees (ten daily emails could have been replaced by one serious conversation)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”?

mm
Dr Jen Frahm – Author of Conversations of Change: A guide to implementing workplace change.

3 Comments

  1. Joe Gergen says:

    My take is that if you are communicating well, it’s difficult to over communicate (whatever the definition of that is). It’s like when your favorite band comes out with another song. Even if it is their one hundredth song, you still like it. But if a crappy band puts out its twelfth song you hate it and think why do they keep releasing this crap.

    I think you are right on. If you focus on quality and timeliness you probably don’t have to worry about over communicating.

  2. Jason Little says:

    I like your point about developing the change communication strategy AFTER doing some research. I find too many change teams push out communication through the ‘usual’ channels all the while saying “we know nobody will read it but…”

    I worked with a team once where I helped them visualize their whole messaging program on a Kanban board, they quickly realized they were over-saturating people with communication and trimmed some of the fat off the program.

    I’m a fan of using the lean coffee format as a way to have “un-structured” meetings in a structured way. It puts the agenda in the hands of the attendees instead of the change people and encourages more open and honest dialogue about the change.

  3. Kylie Gale says:

    thank you! This is my number concern.
    I have recently been recruited for a project which is still in the midst of seeking final approval for the recommended solution and it seems legals may take up to another 6 months for the decision. The project manager has engaged all stakeholders over 12 months ago to collect requirements and to complete demonstrations of the available technical solutions. Stakeholders have been asking for and talking about the purchase and implementation of an online solution for over 5 years.
    So whilst i feel very lucky to be recruited with ample planning time i am concerned that all of my stakeholders are not only screaming for the change to be implemented but are starting to think ‘this may never happen’.
    With a staggered roll out the upgrade to the new way of working for all departments will take up to 24 months, how do i keep the stakeholders engaged, but not flood them with unnecessary information? (a lot of unknowns as well at this stage)

    please help

    To add a little more pressure, I am the FIRST Change specialist to be recruited on ANY project in this organisation and i need to get this right.

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