Compelling communications – the key to successful business change

Compelling communications are vital if your change programme is to be a success. Even if your business change involves a dry technology update, there will always be a people side of the story to tell.

Once you start thinking about this, you will find opportunities to create a real buzz about the changes ahead. Try injecting your next communication with our winning formula below.

Give your campaign a heart

Your campaign needs creative messaging that engages the people at the heart of the change. To achieve this, you should identify those impacted early on and involve them from the start.

We’ve had great feedback from our stakeholder workshops, which bring together representatives from different groups to discuss how the change will impact each of them. This is a good opportunity to find out what inspires your audience, what makes them proud to be part of your organisation and how they really feel about the planned change.

Armed with this information, you can begin to build an engaging campaign that targets everyone effectively.

Tell a good story

When presenting a business change, it’s natural to start talking about facts, numbers and financial benefits. Although important, this is unlikely to make your audience really care about your project or feel inspired to change their behaviour.

For more impact, you should aim to tell a story that makes the change relevant to your stakeholders’ day-to-day work. Opening with a personal experience that is relatable and clearly demonstrates the reason for change will grab their attention from the start. Visual language will also draw people in by encouraging them to picture the scenario in their head as you speak.

Once your audience understands the need for change, you can then set out your vision of the future by giving realistic examples of how things will be different. You should help people to imagine a positive new way of working that benefits them and the customers they care about. This is a far more effective way to inspire behavioural change than presenting cold facts.

Develop a distinct identity

A creative identity that can be applied across all communication materials will help your project stand out from the other programmes. To ensure this is engaging, you should work closely with your stakeholders to design something that visually represents what the change means for them.

We’ve seen particular success by creating illustrated characters which can bring the journey to life for different roles within the business. This ‘family’ of characters can be used to target key messages and benefits for different impacted roles. You can use them to build a story of how each role will transition through the change and how they will need to behave differently.

Attract attention with video

Video is a great way of getting across your key messages consistently and passionately to a global audience. We’ve seen successful engagement through videos that give senior leaders the opportunity to share their vision and address key concerns.

User-generated content is another effective way to tell the story from an employee’s perspective, which can feel more genuine to the audience. However, a clear brief is vital to set out the objectives and provide filming guidelines to ensure high-quality footage.

Take a look at our vBlog on user-generated content

If your change involves a new process, bringing it to life through animation can also really help people visualise how it will work. This can make your message far more engaging than more traditional process maps or wordy procedures, and can also be an opportunity to sell the benefits.

Afiniti has worked with many global organisations to develop compelling communications that make change stick. If you are interested in learning more, please get in touch.

Four ways to create communications tools that last

Those of us who work in communications frequently support our organisation through major change. And for change managers, often the most challenging part of delivering change is what happens after the project has finished.  We need to find ways of embedding the new processes or behaviours and making them stick.

This calls for communications tools that last, are repeatable and sustainable, and have a life beyond the project.

During business change, you’re asking colleagues to change the way they work. They’ll need reliable information, clear motivation and moreover, a shared story that connects any current disruptions to how things will be in the future.

It’s a time to invest in ‘sustainable communication tools’ – these are tools that come to life the more they’re used. For example, an online portal sustained by its own user community, or a visual identity that brings impact and character wherever it’s used. A colleague of mine calls them ‘Future-proof tools’.

Done right, these brilliant concepts can pay for themselves quickly. They’ll inspire people to share content and contribute their own; they can create a stronger sense of a collective journey to a common goal.

Based on our extensive client experience, here are four things to focus on to create effective, long-term communications tools:

1. Culture fit. Devise a tool that suits how people interact now

It’s a common mistake to introduce a platform, like an enterprise social network, that’s at odds with an existing culture. Change teams may hope that people will somehow change their ways when they see it. However culture is, by nature, hard to adjust and successful programmes will work within their audience’s current preferences. There’s room to adjust engagement methods later if people start to become more adventurous.  Also, tools cannot be just left to manage themselves.  You will need to maintain them regularly by prompting people for content, asking questions and making suggestions.  While this can be time consuming to begin with – it will become easier over time, if successful.

2. Usability. Strip back and simplify

It can make sense to offer just a little information, if it means the bigger picture is easier to understand.  We’ve been working with a pharma company who found that complex new role descriptions were getting in the way of business change. People were distracted by the terminology and said they switched off when they received emails about it. The client took a fresh stakeholder management approach using an online campaign to simplify who does what. A team member said: “These people are scientists, inquisitiveness is part of workplace culture. Start with something simple and they’ll ask the right questions as and when they need to”.  So if you’ve developed a campaign that needs to run, keep things simple.  People like ‘simple’.  They are faced with complicated jargon every day so would welcome any effort made to make things easier for them to understand and act on.

3. Identity. Give the programme some character

A great identifier can increase the sense of a shared journey for everyone going through change. It could be a name, image or any visual that works with the organisation’s brand. We’d call it a communications tool because it does an important job in connecting activities together. For example, an oil and gas client won awards for its use of a three day change event to support major change. A strong programme identity ran through diverse activities, highlighting the fact that everything’s connected.

4. Involvement. People will only carry ‘their’ communications tool

Regardless of format, a communications tool will grow because people want it to. The more relevant it feels to individuals, the more they’ll invest. For example, companies often appoint ‘change champions’ but unless these individuals feel in control they’ll struggle to truly ‘champion’ change. Recognising this, a client created a guidance document for its new change champions. It provided key facts and pointers. Champions could talk about change in their own words, but with confidence supported by the right facts.

Read our blog for ideas on how to ensure people are onboard for your change journey

 

Overall, the true test of a sustainable communications tool is whether it connects people to the same purpose, and has a life after the project closes.  We like to pop back to clients to see how they are getting on with the sustainable tools left behind.  Given the right support and guidance, we are often surprised at how well they are working.

Good practice reminders for writing your communications strategy

Come on, be honest, how many times have you googled ‘How to write a communications strategy’?  I admit I have done so in the past, more than once.

Looking back, it’s understandable: your communications strategy represents an expedition. It maps what you want, how you plan to get it and all that might affect the journey. The strategy covers everything and yet to be useful, it must be utterly concise.

So to reduce people’s future googling, here are five things to consider when writing a strategy for communications to support people change.

1. Explore like a journalist

Any successful communications strategy will have people at its heart. You need to understand your audience: their environment and attitudes. A formal approach will include a full situation analysis. At a pinch, gather statistical and anecdotal evidence to understand your client organisation, its history, culture and the people.

Clearly, the more you know about the population you seek to change, the more accurately you can set your strategic objectives and meet them.

2. Your communications strategy should tie your goal to corporate objectives

Your strategy won’t be supported by business leadership unless it’s linked to what the organisation is trying to do. Make this connection obvious when you define the strategy’s purpose. For example, “This is a strategy to have people adopt automated HR by 2018, in order to meet our ops efficiency vision.”

And if you can do this using an engaging visual diagram, then even better.

3. Know exactly what you want people to do differently

Clarify what you want people to think, feel and do as a result of the change, and keep checking the strategic activities against that. Too often, things drift from these goals, especially when working with limited resources.

For example, an oil and gas client wanted to get better cohesion from one of their fastest growing business units. The strategy included an approach to run project meetings more effectively. They wanted people to stay focused on milestones. However the individuals involved traditionally used their face to face meetings for getting issues off their chest. It became obvious that for behavioural change, the client would need to either create additional opportunities to vent, or extend the standard meeting agenda to include it!

4. Build messaging around audience types to support your communications strategy

Develop a tight message framework around audience segments. People find it much easier to keep sight of their plans when they can picture the broad groups they’re aiming at.

For manageability, we’d recommend consolidating to five segments or fewer and creating generalised ‘personas’ to help bring these audience types to life. For example, imagine Trevor, the warehouse manager, who acts on instinct and no longer trusts automated systems (because he’s seen enough come and go). How will he respond to a request to join online training for a new warehouse management system? Again, your strategy is at its most reliable when it’s designed closely around people and their attitudes.

5. Measure and be nimble

More than just tracking progress, measurement is about being ready to respond to performance indicators. That way, you can show audiences that you’re listening as well as taking action to keep the strategy on track.

This means including qualitative feedback along with your metrics. For instance, set up a monthly panel to get ‘word on the street’ feedback as you go.

Then make sure that there is enough flexibility to answer this feedback with alternative activities. This gives room for a level of two way interaction with audiences, which keeps communications and change activities feeling fresh.

With these broad points in mind, it should be easier to draft a communications strategy that is focused enough to resonate with audiences, but avoids getting stuck in the detail. Remember, your strategy should engage your audience and resonate personally to increase the success of change adoption.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this outline – is there a sixth point we should cover though? Let us know in the comments below.

How to get the best out of Internal Communications during business change

During a major business change and transformation there is often a need to bring in expertise and resource capacity from external consultancies to help successfully deliver, manage and embed change.  As an external team, our aim is to quickly form strong alliances with the internal teams, including sponsors, the project and the business.  However, we find over and over again, an untapped team in larger organisations is Internal Communications who can play a critical role in employee engagement activities. Although often involved at some stage of the change lifecycle it’s normally later when their lack of early involvement will prevent the project from getting the true value from this internal resource.  A team who have deep knowledge and insights into the stakeholders, effective channels, the brand and other communications activity taking place.  It seems obvious to get this team involved, the trick is to do this early.

What is the impact of not engaging teams early?

It’s important to engage internal teams early to get them on-side to support the business change and identify the areas where they can add most value.  A tip to remember is that they have a role to play, and should understand what this is.  We have often witnessed teams or individuals who are not engaged at the outset become blockers to effective communications.  This may mean opportunities are missed in using the organisation’s flagship communication channels. Communications teams may possibly question the role of external consultants and feel a sense of encroachment.  Of course this isn’t really the case as the change team are deployed to focus entirely on a particular project and use their specialist experience to maximise successful adoption, utilising several different disciplines along the way.

So how can Internal Communications support the business change team and what are the benefits to the project? Here are 4 helpful insights to engage Internal Communications.

 

1. Share the business drivers and goals.

Sharing the common goals and purpose of the project will quickly engage Internal Communications and ensure they are united behind this vision. This can help manage other communications activities and ensure everything is aligned – avoiding mixed or conflicting messages. Getting this team behind the project early will establish valuable advocates, an extremely useful resource when setting up your change network.

2. Get under the skin of the impacted audience groups.

We know people make change happen and getting to know the most affected audience groups increases the effectiveness of communications.  This enables the change strategy to be highly targeted, addressing specific needs and resistance.  Internal communications can help to accelerate this discovery activity.  They should already have details of the most impacted audiences and can advise on key attributes, effective channels and potential blockers/enablers, feeding into the stakeholder analysis and messaging framework. They have often formed relationships with the stakeholders so useful for introductions.

3. Be creative and design communications that are impactful and effective.

Brand integrity is critical for all organisations, that’s a given, but for internal audience purposes allow the creative identity of the project to push the boundaries and stand out from the norm.  It’s important to create meaningful themes and messages that the target audience groups can relate to rather than seeing another corporate message.  For business change teams, not involving Internal Communications early in the creative process can, firstly, hold up the process while they get aligned but secondly and more critical, create resentment which can disable any ideas of being creative and different. We know when delivering complex messaging or changes affecting people, the communications have to stand out and be highly relevant. Involving the Communications team in new fresh approaches will get their endorsement and support.

4. Release the benefits.

The benefits don’t usually get realised until the change has landed and the project has been handed over to BAU.  The role of Internal Communications is critical to reinforce the messages and ensure people remain supported. The communications strategy should evolve, measuring effectiveness and addressing any blockers and challenges.  This team can help pull together the content and stories celebrating success and rewarding adoption.  Internal Communications can play a key role in continuing to make change stick.

 

We are always happy to talk to internal teams about our approach, share any learnings or best practice so it can be a mutually beneficial experience.

At Afiniti we are passionate about leaving our clients a legacy of useful assets as well as increasing internal capability.  There is nothing more rewarding than getting sustainable value from your investment including a well-equipped team for future projects who can add value from the beginning.

A communications strategy to get your project heard

Three effective ideas that will help your communications strategy get your project heard across a busy change environment.

When we help clients with Communication challenges, it’s often against the backdrop of an already-hectic change environment. In these situations, many projects are competing for attention, and it frequently falls to the project managers to run their own communications strategy – formulating their project messages and getting them out there.

So how can managers make it easy for themselves? We’ve identified three essential steps to develop a comms approach that gets in front of people.

1. Know who you’re talking to and stay relevant

Who is the audience and why should they care about this work?

A change programme may impact thousands across an organisation. This can lead to unwieldy stakeholder maps and elaborate messaging as project teams try and engage ‘everyone’.

To make it manageable, as part of your communications strategy be selective about audience segmentation. Identify no more than five segments around whom to plan engagement activities.

Devise these audience groups so they align to the project’s specific comms objectives. They may be characterised by their demographic, their channel preferences or by the way the project is likely to impact how they work.

For example, a logistics client had to introduce new technology. They based their approach on how much training people would require. This meant disregarding seniority and location, to focus just on the fact that some people would need a greater commitment to the outcomes of change.

These segmentations might be simple. However, they help get the balance between a ‘one size’ approach which risks being bland, and a tailored approach which risks becoming unmanageably complex.

2. Use unexpected channel choices

A few select channels will beat a ‘blanket coverage’ approach and can lend some authenticity to your communications strategy.

Focus first on your audience segments. For each group, look for an engagement method which is credible but which is different enough to ‘cut through’.

For example, a national infrastructure client worked with user generated content to highlight to its people the importance of strong customer service.

Success, to this client, requires commitment from people in many different roles. However, the various role holders may not have felt so connected to each other. To demonstrate this the client team went to sites and asked some of these role holders “What do customers say about us?”. The result was a video that showed just how interdependent everyone really is.

3. Never stop building your stakeholder relationships

There is one quality that underpins positive stakeholder relations – trust. People talk about the value of responsiveness, connection and proactivity. Yet neither quality works without belief from people that you care about their goals and have the competence to support them.

Make an impression by showing you mean it. Plan regular interactions and updates with stakeholders, it’s one of the best investments for a long term programme, especially if they’re a little business change-weary.

 

When a project or programme is going full tilt, it can feel like a luxury to take a step back and reassess its communications strategy. However re-focusing can pay off with an approach that is both easier for the managers running it and more compelling for the audiences involved.

Choosing communications for business change part 3

The first and second parts of this series were all about considered use of creativity and innovation and how to choose communications channels.

What stands above all of this, is the story of the business and its future, which can be told through creative communications and branding. To get the strategy right in the first place and build your overall story, you should consider the following statements.  If the answer is yes, to them all then you are good to go.  If not, then you might want to develop an action plan to tackle some of the issues highlighted. The impact of communications and engagement is being measured throughout to make sure efforts are correctly focused

  • There is a mechanism for employee feedback to be acted upon with clear lines of escalation
  • Individuals will understand how they play a part in the success of business change through the communications and engagement
  • People will understand how the change will impact them
  • People will understand how the change is instrumental in achieving one of the business’s primary strategic goals
  • The business benefits for the change have been clearly articulated
  • The programme has been given credibility and a certain uniqueness through design, branding and messaging.
  • There is a clear statement to illustrate how the company will look after the change has been implemented that runs throughout communications
  • Departments like HR and other teams, are informed and aligned with your key messaging and communications plan, and have had a chance for input
  • Senior leaders understand the messages and their contribution to the communications strategy

It’s surprising, but measurement and this kind of change readiness assessment doesn’t always happen at the start and then continue throughout a programme. It gets forgotten and that means that communications may not engage, involve and inspire people to back the change and take it forward.

Communications for business change Part one

Choosing Communications for business change part 2

How do you pick the right channel and get the best result from your communications?

There a great many communications channels available to most organisations – all with their own pros and cons. However, it’s easy to make your decisions on some pretty general statements, but when it comes to change programmes, there’s more to consider.

The first consideration has to be ‘what are we trying to achieve?’

They key here is not to get lost in the detail.  Focus on what the outcomes are and create a clear vision of the future.  For example, if there is  new technology on the way which will have a significant  impact on the way people, then mapping out the technology landscape will allow people to understand the context of the change. This could take the form of a narrative, interview with a key programme sponsor, or a rich picture.  Whatever you can conjure up to help people understand, you have to find the best way of doing this.

Are people being given face to face time?

Innovation and new digital technology is great but when it comes to change: face to face, real life presence works. From Town Halls, to roadshows, site visits and team meetings, face to face elevates the change above the everyday whirl wind of work and often gives people a chance to speak their mind.

Is this multi-purpose?

Your programme may have its own visual identity or brand to help differentiate it.  This often means you’ll need  to work together well with the internal communications teams.  You’ll need to get them on-side and ensure you have met internal brand guidelines.  You’ll also want your work be sustainable.  This means creating a series of templates and guidelines that are easily accessible and mean that you work can be visually portrayed online, via a number of different mediums.

Is it appropriate right now?

You’ll need to ensure that your efforts consider where the business is at in terms of its performance, mood and reputation.  For instance, you shouldn’t be recommending spending big money on a promotional video or website if there is a cost cutting initiative in place.  For instance, you may  consider creative high engagement value channels like rich pictures – a drawing which bring to life a story of change as people in the room are involved in telling it. In times of opportunity where creative ideas are needed this is a very worthwhile channel. If however the business is facing serious challenges especially in the public eye, anything fun and creative might be seen as inappropriate.

Can people put their own stamp on it?

We know that people often like to be involved in change, so it’s critical that opportunities are made available.  If people feel like they have helped shape the future of their organisation, then they are more willing to be ensure it is a success and encourage their colleagues to do likewise.  . It’s a worthwhile idea running user focus groups to cover key elements of your programme or to build a communications working group that can help gather feedback and assess the mood across the organisation.  They can also help shape your communications output too.  For instance, if people can amend, add to and co-create a rich picture, this is when the real value starts for change communications. People will only take change forward if they feel they’ve been part of it from the start.

Is it new?

Every programme needs to stand out. Of course it’s helpful to use selected tried and tested communications channels as part of the mix. However, if you also choose a new channel dedicated to your programme, for example a newsletter or a podcast, everyone knows it’s about your programme and you won’t have to compete with other communications when you use it.

There’s so much to consider to communicate about your programme effectively, such as the channels, company culture and sustainability.

Part three will cover, the final aspect – creativity.  Your campaign needs to stand out from the crowd, but how? 

Further reading: Part 1 Choosing creative communications

 

Choosing communications for business change Part 1 of 3

In part one of this three part blog series on communications channels for communicating change – innovative channels and creative comms.

Wanting to inspire people with change? Use drawings!

I’m talking about the support of a professional visual scribe or illustrator here so no need to break out the Crayola after all these years. A visual scribe can help you unlock the richest portrayal of how and why things are changing, what people are thinking even.

Illustrations, and/or rich pictures, are a creative way to tell a story and capture people’s input.

Where it works well

At Afiniti, we’ve seen a client in the transport industry go through huge technology and process change; a complete overhaul which meant the way people worked would change forever.

How can you bring change like this to life?

Together we created illustrations which were an integral part of the branding for the programme.

But they didn’t ignore the history of the company and its heritage. Far from it, they told the story of the organisation and the changes it had been through, creating a sense of an ongoing journey.

This included an animation in which momentum was created and the story of the history and of the future was told. You could see the pride people had in being part of this story.

If illustrations and materials are static, some of the power is lost. People need to be totally involved in business change otherwise they’ll see it as something that is being done to them: cue resistance.

Putting a large template rich picture at local offices means people can edit and co create their own change by adding their thoughts and promises to it.

Supporting culture change

This editable template supports cultural change particularly well as people can contribute their own commitments to operating in a certain way. Setting their own goals in this way inspires a different level of ownership over behaviours and change.

A big gap between your big strategy and execution? Try scribing

A scribe can add enormous value to a workshop. Imagine senior management or leadership working together to sense check the strategy laid out in principle by the board. At some point these plans will have to be solidly executed. Managers and leadership must make sense of how the business will look in the future and how the strategy will translate to implementation.

What emerges is a picture of the current state and challenges – the strategy mapped out and the routes to success.

The strategy becomes clearer in the minds of managers and they have co-created an approach to take it forward through working with the facilitator and the scribe.

When you work in business change you know that if people purposefully contribute to the change it has a much better chance of being sustained. The more you involve people with change, in its design and implementation, the more they will be able to actively and positively take your business forward into the future.

Having everything on one page obviously can’t include all the nuts and bolts but it will remind everyone immediately of the key rationale for change – the why, and the how.

With illustrations, rich pictures, animation and real time scribing, you can bring your change story to life and meaningfully involve people – all essential stuff when you consider the maelstrom of working life and the attention a programme really needs to make a difference.

In part 2 will look at how to choose your comms channels strategically for your programme.

Communications Tips for Managing Change

Managing change and communicating it to people can be a messy affair. It can be uncomfortable, problematic and challenging.

You potentially need to persuade many people that the journey you’re about to talk about is worth embarking on and your audience will be split into groups who’ll be positive, resistant, wary or ambivalent – so you’ll have a challenge on your hands.

Read more