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How communicators can make successful change

Getting people to accept new ideas and work differently is notoriously difficult.

The bottom line is simple; most people don’t like change. While most employees won’t actively work against change, they are pretty good at resisting it passively in the hope it will go away. And quite often it does.

According to a PWC study, the success rate of major change programmes is around half. Other studies have shown even this to be optimistic.

The top reason change fails is ‘change fatigue’. Too many change initiatives without prioritisation.

And the second reason is the CEO and top team quite often dictate what the change programme is about. They spend months discussing and agreeing the change, working it through, understanding the implications on the business, and then launch it, expecting employees to get it straight away. Even though it’s taken them months to get to this place. No wonder then that employees may not understand it and go on to support it.

From a communicator’s perspective, the biggest mistake organisations make is assuming that communication is the same as engagement. Both are important but they are different.

Change, like engagement, is not something that can be ‘done’ to employees if you want it to stick. It must be two-way, with timely and meaningful engagement to bring your employees with you on the journey. Not just told when they’ve arrived.

Most change programmes deal effectively with the nuts and bolts – structure, processes, performance management systems. This is because it’s the easy part which senior managers understand and have most control over. The part they can’t control so easily is the softer side of things around culture. No change happens without culture change, and this is where communicators can add value to programmes.

The most used definition of culture is ‘the way things are done around here’. And this is as much influenced by how someone thinks, believes and feels as it is by structure and processes.

Understanding how employees react in times of change - when stress levels can go through the roof - will help you shape your communications approach. Humans like predictability. Change by its nature is unpredictable so is seen as a threat. This distracts employees and becomes a barrier to them seeing things clearly, ultimately affecting their performance at work.

While there’s no silver bullet to getting change right, there are a few important reasons why change programmes fail and within this lies some good lessons for communicators. My webinar highlights these and looks at how you can practically design and manage effective change communications.


Interested in learning more? Check out the new 'Employee Change Communications'  webinar with Paul