Mastering transformation communication

Getting your entire organisation’s buy-in is essential to the success of any organisational transformation, says Arif Harbott

Any successful communication strategy will require a regular, high-quality stream of communication from the transformation to the organisation, to keep all the stakeholders in your organisation informed, committed and aware of your progress.

Getting your entire organisation’s buy-in is essential to the success of your transformation. You can accomplish this with a well-executed communication strategy.

It will be your transformation team’s responsibility to curate information about the transformation and effectively distribute it across your organisation.

There are many different communication methods you can use such as:

  1. An in-person kick-off roadshow to each impacted office location before you start your transformation 
  2. Quarterly in-person updates
  3. Anonymous feedback channels
  4. Digital communication hubs
  5. A local transformation representative
  6. Physical assets about the transformation vision

Which ones will be most useful to you depend on your unique context. Therefore you need to ensure your communication strategy takes this into account, and is heavily tailored so that it works for you.

That being said, we have identified six key tips to improve your transformation communication strategy:

Tip 1: keep it simple and jargon free

When you issue communications, it is so important that all jargon and technical terminology should

be avoided where possible, plain language should be used so that all messages are clear and concise. When jargon must be used, ensure that it’s explained again and again.

Tip 2: know your audience

For those affected by your transformation the change is personal. Roles that are being impacted by the transformation need someone to listen so they can air their issues, worries and frustrations before they will support and adopt the change you are recommending.

While there are many different audiences, the two key groups to consider are:

1. Transformation stakeholders

Those who are directly involved with the day-to-day execution of the transformation. The transformation accountability meeting and workstream accountability meeting are key meetings you should hold regularly to keep these stakeholders engaged and aligned.

2. Wider organisation

For your wider organisation, it will be important for your communications to answer your stakeholders’ key questions and to also provide a feedback loop from them into the transformation:

  • ‘What’s in it for me?’ Those impacted by the change need to see how their lives will be better in the future as a result of the transformation.
  • ‘How will things be better as a result of the transformation?’ Explain the improved business performance and how that will positively impact customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers etc.

Tip 3: tailor to your unique context

As we have already mentioned tailoring your communication is critical. Your communication strategy must take into account the unique context of your organisation and how it is organised.

The following questions will help you tailor your communication strategy:

  1. Is your organisation in a single country or is it global?
  2. Is your company arranged around business units or countries?
  3. Is it centralised or decentralised? 
  4. How does information currently pass through your organisation?

Tip 4 – Find the right channels and frequency of communications

Having great content is insufficient if no one is seeing or engaging with it. Therefore the distribution of your content is even more important than the production of content.

Most organisations will default to digital communications such as emails, videos or blogs, these can be an effective way to communicate if you want a wide reach and need scale impact. 

However, there is a risk that digital only communications can be perceived as impersonal and show a lack of interest. 

Therefore, it is critical that your communication strategy has a mix of digital and in-person communication. This is made more complicated by the impact of Covid-19 which has made office to office travel harder. However, you can still simulate in-person communication using video conferencing tools.

It’s key that there are channels for ongoing healthy two-way communication, where all stakeholders feel they are being listened to and understood.

Tip 5: feedback and iterate

You must monitor and measure the impact of your communication strategy. The best communication should be a two-way endeavour. 

You need to make sure that your audience has the ability to contribute and respond. It should be a conversation rather than a one- way delivery of content.

Some of the most effective ways of doing this are:

  • Managed online forums
  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • In-person ‘Town Hall’ sessions
  • Local champions
  • Online Q&A sessions

The best communication is two-way. This is done so people will feel both informed and listened to.

Tip 6: show people the future roadmap of existing things to come

The transformation roadmap is a key communication asset, which is a graphical strategic plan of the transformation’s high-level Initiatives and deliverables presented on a timeline. It should include the major milestones.

The roadmap forms a very effective communication tool to align stakeholders. This assists in budget planning, coordinating plans and provides overview of governance.

The roadmap should include workstreams and Initiatives. It is not advisable to include every Initiative as this will probably be too much detail.

Types of audiences

When selling a transformation internally there are usually three broad audiences you will encounter:

Detractors

Those who blatantly or subtly try to derail the transformation. It is unlikely that any attempt by the transformation leadership will persuade this group. Your goal is to try and contain them or in extreme cases the key people may need to be removed.

Undecided

People on the fence but can be persuaded. This is where you need to invest the majority of your time to convert them into champions or at the very least prevent them from becoming detractors.

Advocates and champions

Those who quickly buy into the transformation. These people are key to creating a strong coalition who are vocal in their support for the transformation.

Focus your resources on those people that are sitting on the fence, as it is unlikely that you will convince the real detractors in the short term. 

Work out what their top questions will be and design your initial communications to raise awareness to these proactively:

  1. Give them a reason to change (visualisation, the vision, the why)
  2. Show them a way to change (small, clear steps, the roadmap)
  3. Give them support, encouragement and feedback

Arif Harbott is co-author of The HERO Transformation Playbook with Cuan Mulligan, published by Practical Inspiration, priced £29.99.

Arif is co-founder of The HERO Transformation Framework (www.herotransformation.com) – the step-by-step process to deliver transformations and large-scale change programs with the best chance of success. He is a CTO and leading transformation expert having delivered some of the world’s largest and most complex transformations.

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