Being prepared for the questions you will be asked before you begin your change journey is vital, say Julie Nerney and Geoff Robins. Here are five common questions that you will need to answer and update on
People are the heart of any change activity. Both those leading the change and those impacted by it. You must bring your people with you, not least because it is those people adopting and advocating the change that will make it stick and ensure that your desired outcomes are sustained. This means that communication and engagement are the spine of your plan. It bridges the things you can control and those you need to influence – and you need it at every step of the way. It needs to be the heartbeat of your activities; a regular drumbeat which runs through everything you do.
Some people look at a change communications plan and say it has too much in it, or that it feels like too much once they get started. However, the level of content and frequency is essential. As a communications expert once said to us: “Only when you are bored of saying it has your audience started listening”. And that is doubly important at a time of change when you need to cut through the inevitable rumours and resistance that will abound.
Taking time to think about the questions you will be asked before you begin your change journey is vital. In our experience, these five questions are the most likely to crop up:
People want to know why things are changing and you need that clarity too. What are the facts that support the change? It’s the wardrobe pole that you metaphorically need to hang everything else off. If this isn’t sturdy enough, it will fall down in no time as it becomes over-burdened by having too much weight to carry.
People want to know when it is going to happen. Don’t fall foul of giving detailed timelines, as the only certainty about even the best plans is that they will change. That is no judgment on the quality of the work that goes into the initial plan, just that it will be based on assumptions – and not all your assumptions will hold over time. So, when you are communicating with your people, talk to them about which month or quarter things will happen in and where there are key milestones and deliverables that will be noticeable to them.
What’s in it for me?
You need to couch your change communication around what’s in it for your audience. The outcome you are looking to generate with this is buy-in and commitment to the change, creating early advocacy and momentum to drive you towards your outcomes. Remember that this might not be a one-size-fits-all answer. You may need to segment your responses based on the different groups of staff or impacted individuals to ensure that they feel listened to and that you understand their needs.
What does it mean for me?
While answering the question of ‘what’s in it for me?’ is your sales pitch, answering this one is all about providing reassurance. In our experience, there is rarely a change plan that doesn’t have an impact on individuals. At the very least, you’ll be asking people to do something different. At the other end of the scale, it could mean changes to role responsibilities or accountabilities, promotion or redundancy. You must answer this question honestly as soon as you can. Even if the initial answer is “we’re not sure yet but we will tell you as soon as we know”. If that’s the case, then make sure you stay true to your word. Contrary to popular opinion being this transparent doesn’t create panic or distraction, but saying nothing does. If you don’t fill the gap, rumours and myths will.
How do I have my say/get involved/find out more?
If your ‘why?’ and ‘what’s in it for me?’ has connected with your audience, then they will feel engaged and it will lead to this kind of question. Ensuring you have adequate channels for capturing ideas and feedback from those impacted is vital. These same channels can also be used for disseminating your own messages as part of your communication plan.
Reinforcing and reminding
It’s important to remember that all of these questions need to be answered repeatedly. Constantly. Each time you do this, you have an opportunity to remind people of the ‘why?’ too. Reiterating the ‘why?’ should be at the heart of regular updates that serve to both reinforce and remind, as well as build confidence and belief in your people as key milestones are met.
‘What’s in it for me?’ and ‘what does it mean for me?’ need to be updated regularly as you work through your design and delivery phase, reflecting the inevitable iteration and learning that you get through those phases. In addition, the channels for ensuring you hear from your people must be maintained and updated with new content. They must also evolve based on feedback from your people at every step of the way.
Julie Nerney and Geoff Robins are business transformation experts and co-authors of Business Morphology: How to Navigate Through Change (Practical Inspiration Publishing, 2023)