Change Management Communication: 5 Step Planning Guide

Posted by David Grossman on Mon, Feb 17, 2020

Change management communication plan

Organizations going through change naturally focus on the project being implemented what has to be done by when to complete the action plan. They often don’t give as much thought to what people need to do differently to achieve the desired results. Yet most organizational change won’t succeed without employees somehow adopting new ways of working.

What is Change Management Communication and Why is it Important?

Change communication is the informational component of the change management strategy that helps stakeholders understand what is changing and why, and how it will specifically affect them. It delivers timely messages and materials aligned with key milestones, ensures stakeholders receive consistent information about what is important to them, and provides a mechanism to share feedback and ask questions.

Whether you are changing technology, business practices, leadership or a combination of things, change management communication is essential to helping people move from where they are today to the desired “future state.” 

Change Management and Communication Follow Similar Processes

The Standard for Change Management defines a multi-phase process that professional change managers use to think through, plan for and execute organizational change. The approach is informative as you think about creating your communication plan to support a change.

  1. Evaluate change impact and organizational readiness – Thoroughly examine what is changing, how it differs from where the organization is today, who will be affected by the change, the desired future state and the plan to achieve it. This assessment step includes:

    a. Clearly define the change and vision for the future – What is changing and when, where will changes take place and why, who needs to change and what do we want the future to look like?

    b. Assess all the factors related to the change – What risks, goals, culture, and other changes are happening, and what other internal and external factors could influence them?

    c. Analyze all the stakeholders affected – Who is accountable, how are different groups and roles affected, who is being impacted the most, and who might be resistant to the change?

    d. Consider how the organization operates – Once a clear vision of the future is developed, how is it different from the way the organization operates today and what risks are there in moving to the future state?

  2. Formulate the change management strategy – This includes approaches for resources, communications, sponsorship, stakeholder engagement, learning and development, measurement and sustainability for the change.
  3. Develop a detailed change management plan – Spell out action steps and timeline to accomplish the strategy.
  4. Execute the change management plan – Monitor the implementation, measure outcomes and adjust ongoing activities as needed to continue reinforcing adoption.
  5. Complete the change management effort – Evaluate outcomes against objectives, design and conduct a lessons-learned evaluation, and gain approval to close the project once successful.

Execute your change management communication planCreating a Change Communication Plan

Like the process outlined in the Standard for Change Management, creating a change management communication plan starts with a deep understanding of the organization, stakeholders and change impacts. The goal is to support the business objective by helping stakeholders understand the change, how they will need to adapt their day-to-day responsibilities and what is expected of them.

By ensuring a consistent flow of information, engaging stakeholders and continually managing feedback, change communication helps people feel more comfortable as they move to the future state and adopt new ways of working.

The communications planning process involves the following steps similar to the change management process described above: 

Step-1b

 

Assess the Situation, People,
Channels and Needs

If you are working with change management partners, they are likely responsible for a stakeholder analysis, which summarizes the levels and types of impacts on different roles and functions. If a stakeholder analysis is not available, you should work with the change sponsor or subject matter expert in each function to uncover the critical information needed for communications planning.

As you assess the situation, people, channels and needs to prepare for developing a change communications plan, be sure to:   

  • Know your employee audience and who will be most affected – You need details of the changes happening to each audience and when to be able to plan appropriate customized communication.
  • Understand what’s changing and why and document the case for change – The “what” and “why” of the change are key components of your messaging to all audiences. Click below and try this tool to capture your information:

Create the Case for Change Tool

  • Define the vision for the future and how it aligns with the business plan – The organization has a reason for making the change and the vision explains this in terms employees will understand. Try the tool below, “Paint a Picture of the Future,” to help guide your vision.
  • Identify the “pain points” that the change plan addresses – The difference between how people operate today vs. the “future state” should be reflected in your messaging to help people understand areas that will change the most.
  • Identify communications channels needed to reach the audiences – Keep in mind that any touchpoints stakeholders may have with their leaders or the organization, including face-to-face huddles and operational meetings, can be used to deliver and reinforce key messages.

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case studyCase Study: Uncovering Needs to Plan for Transformation Communication

To implement an industry-endorsed approach for a Safety Management System (SMS), a multi-state utility deployed a large transformation team to align its structures, processes and roles across seven operating companies. They identified 19 workstreams to advance the work and the change management team conducted stakeholder analyses for each workstream.

Utility-workers-v3The analysis determined the level of impact for employees in functions including construction, engineering, employee health and safety, field and system operations, human resources, maintenance and planning. The stakeholders included leaders and employees at the corporate level and in seven separate state operating companies.

The SMS communications team was responsible for an overarching change communications plan as well as day-to-day support for individual workstreams. Through detailed interviews with leaders of each workstream, they identified what was changing, why and when, and the specific desired behaviors that would help achieve workstream goals. The team also consulted communications and operational leads in the states to understand channels they would use and the challenges they envisioned to implement the change at the local level.

This research identified the audiences, key messages, milestones and timeline that formed the foundation of the communications plan, and informed the strategy for supporting state communications teams in reaching their stakeholders. The resulting plan included message maps for the core SMS effort and key workstreams, infographics to illustrate the process and benefits, leader kits and an alignment strategy to provide monthly updates and gather feedback from state operating companies.

 

Step_2

 

Create the Change
Communications Plan

Most change communication is designed to drive engagement that results in behavior change and new ways of working. Any communication plan can create awareness of what is happening and promote its benefits. Change communications plans must do that and more – they must help people see where they fit and provide answers to their deepest concerns:

“What does this mean to me and what do I need to do?”

Behavior change happens one person at a time and the more your communication can connect on a personal level, the more effective it will be.

This doesn’t mean your communications team should offer therapy or coaching to every employee! However, you will be most successful with an approach focused on individual needs as well as overarching general communications. Consider:

      • What do front-line employees need to know as they experience and deal with the expectations of change?
      • What will help their leaders answer their questions and connect team members to their roles in attaining the ultimate goal?
      • What framework can you use to ensure your communications and messages can adapt to audience needs as transformation moves forward and continues to evolve along the way?

At the end of the day, your plan should support the behavior change with communication that gives stakeholders the information they need when they need it, and equips leaders to help in the process. The change communication plan includes the following key sections: 

        • Objectives based on the business goals (what success looks like) – Like any communications effort, change communication plans should align closely with the business objectives for the change. These objectives can be explained in a story or graphic to help everyone connect with the vision for success.
        • Desired behaviors for employees – These may vary by role or function, and should be observable (ideally measurable, e.g., use of a new tool or software) to demonstrate adoption of the change.

          Consider using a template like the one below to help lead a discussion with your change sponsor on what you want each impacted group to think, feel and do as a result of the change. This insight will help guide your messages and communication strategies. 

Example Audience types

Mindset

What I want them to Think

Feel

And Do as a result of the communications

All employees

 

 

 

 

<Insert additional audience types as needed>

 

 

 

 

      • Key messages – You’ll need core messages explaining the overarching change and vision, as well as audience-specific messages to support key milestones. For example, customized messages for field engineers would be timed to the rollout of a new process, to explain training plans, rollout timing and expectations of their role in consulting with the field.
      • Communication strategies and tactics – This section summarizes the key activities you’ll implement to support the change for all categories of stakeholders. It might be organized by target audience (e.g., leaders/front-line employees), or by change initiative (e.g., phases of a software rollout).
      • Editorial calendar – An overview of your plan for delivering relevant information to stakeholders at key points in the change effort. It summarizes the message themes and the channels used to deliver them, aligning timing with key milestones in the program.

Editorial Calendar Template:

 

January

February

March

April

Etc.

Key milestones

 

 

 

 

 

Monthly content focus

 

 

 

 

 

Leader communications

 

 

 

 

 

Graphics (such as posters, digital signage, field guides, etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

Intranet or internal resource page

 

 

 

 

 

<Insert others unique to your initiative>

 

 

 

 

 

An editorial calendar showing monthly communication themes aligned with key change milestones captures your plan at a glance and helps leaders understand how communications are
reinforcing key behaviors.

  • Formal and informal two-way feedback channels – Whether you use existing channels or create new ones, this “must have” could include online mailboxes, suggestion boxes in a field office (formal), or a defined process for front-line leaders/change champions to invite and respond to employee feedback (informal). The organization must actively respond to feedback from all channels and use it to guide communication (often through the communications team).
  • Cadence of measurement – Key performance indicators (KPIs) measure business progress, and the communications team should regularly report on measures such as engagement with tools, participation in key events, feedback received and responded to, etc. Measure your progress using this dashboard template:

Change Communications Measurement Dashboard Template

  • Input and ongoing feedback – Be ready to evolve your activities to meet changing needs and continuously evaluate the effectiveness of communications efforts. This will be easier if you engage regularly with those on the front lines of the change – whether through focus groups, surveys or periodic input meetings with a cross-functional work team.
  • Action plan – A game plan outlining specific activities and timing for executing tactics in the change communications plan. It details the deadlines and people responsible for steps including leader and legal review of content and design, printing or other production, mailing, distribution, and delivery of presentations or information to employees. Get the action plan template at the end of this post, or skip down to it here.

Step_3

 

Prepare Key People for Their
Critical Influencer Role

All leaders – from front-line supervisors to middle managers and senior executives – serve as role models and champions for new behaviors and change. For any change to be successful, leaders from every stakeholder group must be active and visible in leading their teams and reinforcing progress. Best practice research confirms that employees want to hear from leaders during change:

      1. They want to hear about business reasons for the change, risks and competitive information from senior leaders who are responsible for the change.
      2. They want to hear about the personal impacts of the change and what it means to them from their immediate supervisors.

In addition, employees often turn to influential peers because of strong relationships, experience, skills and commitment. These influencers can be recruited as “change agents” (or part of a “change network”), trained as communicators, equipped with information and asked to share feedback that they hear from their coworkers.

Drivers of communicating organizational change

These Official and Unofficial Leaders are the Drivers of Change

In best-practice organizations, the communication responsibility assigned to these leaders is clearly articulated by their direct supervisors, who set expectations and hold them accountable for delivering information and gathering feedback.

To set leaders and change agents up for success, change sponsors and communication teams collaborate to define their communication role and ensure they are equipped with information, tools, training and support. These key steps should be a component of every change communication plan.

  • Evaluate communication capabilities of leaders – Consider their communications experience and knowledge when choosing the tools and training to help prepare leaders for their change role. For example, supervisors with minimal experience may be best served by a more basic approach, while senior leaders will find messages and toolkits familiar. You also can use a leadership communication skills assessment to determine their needs. 
  • Assemble a network of change agents, including peer influencers – Early in your planning, define what this group will be asked to do, how much time it will take, and the support to be provided. Share this information with managers and supervisors in each stakeholder group and ask them to nominate influential employees to participate. With leader approval, invite the individuals to participate, starting with a kick-off meeting to share expectations. 
  • Create tools to help them deliver critical messages – Develop a toolkit for leaders and change agents with communication tools suited for their specific situation and audience. Core messages, communication tips, slides, handouts, infographics, posters, FAQs and even communication content (e.g., email announcements) can be provided to support communication with their teams. Toolkits can be customized and updated periodically as the program progresses. 
  • Brief them on the tools and provide more training if needed – Conduct a briefing or webinar that explains the change, key tools in the toolkit and how to use them. This will have the greatest impact if their senior executive reinforces the importance of their communication roles. Keep in touch with participants to understand how they are using the tools and what is most helpful (gathering input to guide future activities). Provide coaching as needed on key communication concepts and tools.
  • Identify feedback channels and reinforce response expectationsResponding promptly to employee questions and feedback is one of the most important change communication responsibilities. Leaders and change agents need to know which feedback channels employees can use, the response process being followed, and specific expectations for them to answer employee questions. If a response process doesn’t exist, create and implement one. Be sure this information is in the toolkit and reinforced consistently.
case studyCase Study: Preparing Leaders to Communicate Transformation at USP

U.S. Pharmacopoeia, a 200-year-old nonprofit organization, experienced multiple pain points in its traditional methods for developing and publishing scientific standards for the pharmaceutical industry. In response, USP leaders identified the need for a new approach to a number of processes, as well as systems, technology and talent, to improve efficiency and enhance collaboration among its highly skilled scientific staff. With the vision defined, they wanted people across USP to engage in identifying solutions to achieve what was deemed the “ATP” transformation (a play on a scientific term for the molecule that uses energy to power cells).

USP needed its leaders to understand the vision, explain it to their teams in a clear and relatable way, and align around the ultimate goal that had been set by a select group within the organization. A Transformation Leader Prep Meeting briefed 95 USP Case Studyleaders on the plan, outlined role expectations, and introduced the ATP Leader Communicator Toolkit with leader tips and key messages plus several tools to share. Following the briefing, working sessions for leaders in USP’s four divisions talked about what ATP would mean for their teams, anticipated employee questions, and started planning for the upcoming employee launch.

Following the prep meeting, leaders used the materials to prepare their teams for the ATP launch and encouraged involvement in eight solution teams tasked with identifying next steps. More than 100 employees volunteered to serve on the teams (comprised of approximately 60 individuals) that were formed following the launch and together developed rollout plans for implementation in 2019 and 2020.

 

Step_4

 

Execute the
Communications Plan

When you receive input and approval on your change communications plan and messages, it’s time to take action. Be sure to brief key communication contacts (such as internal communications editors, intranet managers and video resources) about your plans so they are ready to provide support when needed. Also give a heads up to anyone who will be tapped to deliver messages to employees, so they know their role, what’s coming and when.

Because of the nature of change programs, expect to evolve your plans and adapt your materials to the changing needs of the projects and stakeholders. Your efforts are more likely to be successful if you follow a few guiding principles:

  • Be consistent and purposeful about messaging – Ensure everyone receives the same core messages and understands the importance of using them. Reflect the same information in internal communications materials, graphics and intranet content. 
  • Keep leaders at the forefront – Employees are closely watching their leaders and it is up to the communication team to provide leaders with the latest information and tools to keep employees informed.
  • Communicate often with a focus on what employees want to know – Be sensitive to the concerns of front-line employees and what they need to know to deal with uncertainty and changing circumstances. Provide updates when available and be clear about what is in progress. Address myths or rumors with facts and share information in channels most likely to reach them (including providing updates that leaders can share with their teams). Help guide your communications in times of change with this tool:

Communicate in Times of Change Tool

  • Listen carefully and respond religiously – Monitor feedback channels and ask employees what they’re thinking to uncover questions and concerns to address in communication. Set a standard for responding to employee questions or feedback within 48 hours, even if it’s just to let them know their input was received and you are working on finding an answer. Guidance and talking points for handling feedback should be provided to leaders and change agents as well.
  • Celebrate work done in the previous system and highlight successes – While it is good to communicate about the “future state,” it’s also important to acknowledge the achievements of the past. This can help employees feel their efforts are appreciated here and now. As changes roll out and successes are identified, be sure to highlight people who are adopting new ways of working and the positive outcomes they are achieving. Ask change agents and leaders to be on the lookout and bring you success stories you can share.
  • Plan for recognition and ongoing engagement – Work with different functions as needed to align on ways to recognize and reinforce progress and adoption of change. The communications team can provide visibility through internal communications channels, for example, but recognition programs and engagement surveys may be owned by human resources or another team.
  • Remember that it takes time and consistent reinforcement to achieve lasting change – Your communications and recognition activity should continue long after the rollout. By reinforcing key concepts and successes through updated messages and leader tools, you’ll help employees see the change is taking hold and their efforts are successful. 

Creating a change management communication plan

Step_5

 

Evaluate What Should Be Stopped, Started or Continued

Gather input from leaders, change agents and your cross-functional team of advisers to understand what communication is working well and what could be done to better meet employee needs. Ask the tough questions and probe to understand how employees are feeling, what challenges they are facing and what they are worried about.

You can uncover important information in day-to-day conversations, input meetings, follow-up surveys or stakeholder interviews. Consider using these tips to help you listen for what's not being said and ask questions to ensure understanding.

In addition to anecdotal feedback and insights from people on the front lines, some of the things you can use to evaluate your efforts include:

  • Communication metrics – What tools are employees using most (e.g., intranet pages or software tools), which activities are most popular? What is the most used feedback loop?
  • How are employees handling the change? – Use a pulse survey of approximately five questions to consistently poll employees on their knowledge, acceptance and adoption of the change. Compare your results across employee groups and locations to identify topics of concern and adjust communications accordingly.
  • What is getting in the way Watch for trends in questions asked, information requested or comments made and probe with leaders and change agents to understand issues people are facing. Share information with project leaders to prompt possible adjustments to address issues and communicate updates as appropriate.
  • Lessons learned – Many change efforts are done in the spirit of continuous improvement and learning, and your communications plans should be no exception. Learn from your evaluation and adjust your messages, tools and communication cadence to respond to stakeholder needs.

Are you ready to create your own Change Management Communications Action Plan? Download this free template, which aligns with the content in this post, to guide you.

Change Communication Action Plan Template

Tags: Communicating Change

    About leadercommunicator blog

    Leadership and communications expert, David Grossman shares high-level tips on leadership effectiveness, internal communications, employee engagement, and a variety of other topics on the minds of leaders and communicators.

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