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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.

If you’re thinking about cyber security, you should also think about behaviour change

It’s no longer an option to view cyber attacks as something that happens to someone else, some other organisation, or just a technical issue.  It’s now standard practice for all large organisations to have measures in place to protect themselves and their assets, and these measures often include an element of culture and behaviour change .

I’ve recently been involved in a project where I helped a client change the way their workforce viewed cyber security and embed a set of new highly-secure behaviours.

The project has been very successful and I’ve even found my own behaviour changing as a result – I’ve signed up for a password manager and my laptop is now a veritable fort knox!

So what do we mean by cyber security?

In its simplest terms, cyber security is the protection of an individual’s or organisation’s cyber assets.

To protect cyber assets you need to worry about physical security as well as cyber security.  This is where you need to think about the culture and behaviours of the organisation – there’s no point having great firewalls in place, if you leave the door to your server room open!

What is a cyber threat?

There are a number of different types of cyber threat, including state-sponsored attacks, insider threats, cybercrime, cyberterrorism, physical threats (staff members leaving doors or computers unlocked) and ‘hacktivism’ (hacking a system for social or political gain). Each company will have a different profile in terms of which of these threats are the most probable and how serious the consequences of a breach could be.

How does an organisation protect itself against cyber attack?

If people don’t understand, endorse and actively support cyber security consistently throughout an organisation, it’s just a matter of time before the best of systems will be compromised.

As change professionals, the area we add value is in helping our clients identify and embed the behaviours that will support the other measures (such as technological protection) they have in place. This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ – if people don’t understand, endorse and actively support cyber security consistently throughout an organisation, it’s just a matter of time before the best of systems will be compromised.

Affecting large-scale behavioural change

Let’s be clear about one thing: change is hard! I get uncomfortable changing my brand of toothpaste. So effecting meaningful, lasting change can’t just be a top-down approach.  For behaviours to adapt, and for change to be truly adopted, all affected staff need to take ownership and understand the importance of the change.

Here are some key methods and approaches we use at Afiniti to help our clients ensure long-term and sustainable behavioural change is achieved across the whole organisation.

1.       Build sustainable toolkits and communications

This can’t be a one-off short-burst campaign, it needs to be rolled out over a period of time for the desired behaviours to become embedded as second nature.

To help maintain a high level of interest throughout the project, try a mix of communication styles from hard-hitting and informative to softer, more subliminal messaging.

And lastly, by using a blend of channels and methods, plus appropriate language and tone, you can ensure your key messages reach all intended audience groups.

2.       Co-create and utilise real people to generate awareness and validate the programme

Take the time to understand people’s opinions and insights into their areas of work, and then involve them in the project planning and execution. This way you’ll not only gain a more rounded understanding of the business needs, but people will feel invested in the project from the beginning.

Once people feel on board and understand the importance of the changes, work with them to create content such as short videos and workshops.  This type of user-generated content can really help with marketing to external audience groups, so why not reap the benefit for your internal communications efforts too?  It’s often cheaper, more authentic and more trusted by internal audiences.

Check out our vBlog of top tips for creating user-generated content

3.       Use creative and eye-catching visual assets

As they say ‘an image can convey a thousand words’ and this is certainly true when you’re trying to present a set of important key messages. Trying to condense a long white paper into a punchy animation or presentation can be a difficult thing to do, but it also forces you to concentrate on the things that really matter and helps to bring ideas and concepts to life.

4.       Create a security champions network

By giving tools and training to a group of security champions, you can create a community which supports the wider workforce on a day-to-day basis.  The champions can share experiences, best practice and be a point of call for questions, ideas and concerns. It also really helps to see respected colleagues modelling the desired behaviours.

Read our article on Making change stick by getting the whole team on board

It’s important to bear in mind that changing behaviours and mindsets doesn’t happen overnight, these things take time to embed. The tools and approaches above will help you maintain momentum and create the emotional engagement you need to embed the desired ways-of-working on a permanent basis.

If you have any interesting insights, or experiences of behaviour change related to cyber security, we’d be interested in hearing from you, so leave us a comment.

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.

How does change management fit with project management?

There is, understandably, some confusion about how change management activities sit alongside project management.

After all, project management provides for comms and learning, so what’s the need for additional change management?
Looking at the success rate of projects, we can see there is great additional need for a structured approach to managing the people aspect of change.

Working at portfolio level – transformational change

This looks at projects from a portfolio, organisational perspective. If your organisation is faced with complex transformation, involving multiple projects, typical project management activities around comms and learning will not be enough to steer the organisation’s people towards a desired future state – efforts at the project level will simply be too fragmented. Change management allows for a portfolio top-down view of the way in which a business’s people will move from the present state to a future desired state.

Designing change with people in mind

At the beginning, project management includes a focus on initial stakeholder analysis, mapping and communications planning. However, change management goes further to plot the impact of the change/s on the organisation and teams.

This is the important part, without the buy-in and engagement of the organisation’s people, the project is likely to encounter negativity and push-back, with project managers spending precious time fighting fires and rescuing relationships.

The change management team will get to grips with the culture and beliefs of the different teams involved, understanding that potentially, each of these groups have their own unique attributes and preferences.  Feedback will be gathered directly from people on how the proposed changes could affect them, and how their day-to-day working may be impacted.

Building this initial picture and understanding of the organisation’s teams is the first step in a structured approach to the people aspect of change. Next the change management team will carry out impact analysis, change readiness assessment, and initial stakeholder research in order to outline a strategy to manage resistance and fulfil communication and engagement roles.

Factoring people in at the beginning means that barriers to adoption can be clearly identified and proactively dealt with.

Adding depth to the delivery of change to people

Articulating the reasons for the change, from a people and business perspective, comes directly from having the above people-focused approach to planning and strategy. A clearer vision comes from conveying the wider context of change and what that will mean for people. The story of why the change is happening is given a broader strategic level context.

From that it is easier to produce the blueprint for a visual identity, and a set of messages that create impact for teams and individuals. Inspiring people with a story, the context for the change and what it will mean for them are all made possible by the more structured people-focused planning and strategy which is afforded by change management.

Further, change management activities create a network of local support during the project delivery. Change champions are equipped to communicate and endorse the change. Special attention is given to line managers, sponsors and this change network to enable them to fulfil the goal of not just pushing messages out, but receiving input and monitoring how the change is being received and adopted by people.

An IT manager may deliver change focusing on communicating the benefits and training people to use new technology or process. However, change management process takes this further. Feedback and response mechanisms are formalised and structured.  It provides coaching for senior leaders and sponsors on how to identify the root causes of resistance and how to engage and manage resistance when it happens.

Read our article on managing resistance to change.

Training becomes another opportunity to engage with people and obtain their buy-in and genuine participation. Change management activities relating to training focus on how it can be made more interactive, designed for feedback, and feature the organisation’s people in the delivery – all with the core messaging throughout.

Post implementation we find that change management’s people focus means that people are rewarded and acknowledged for their adoption of the new, reinforcing the change after ‘go-live’. Feedback from people improves process and ensures the changes adapt to meet their original goals.

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.

How to communicate with your change army

The Terracotta Army of 8000 warriors took 720,000 people over 37 years to build.

The original vision for this was grand beyond imagination but it was thanks to all of those workers who created every individually distinct soldier that this amazing relic survives in great detail over 2200 years on.

The point? People drive change, but unlike 2200 years ago, business leaders now need to work with people not just impose orders or tell people what to do. Employee support is crucial for change and people need to be involved and heard.

Nowadays we must go through change and execute on a strategy with people, designing and implementing it together to ultimately realise the benefits.

Engagement and communication works to Make Change Stick– here are some stats showing how engagement effects project outcomes.

employee engagement

If we use positive communication styles and change management approaches together we see really positive results for engagement.

Here are some beneficial communication styles and behaviours:

  1. Listen and listen again – an important skill anyway, but when times are tough, leaders can almost act like counsellors. It can be incredibly uplifting for an employee to know their leader is listening to their concerns.
  2. Stay positive – to see possibilities rather than barriers and use to positive language like “we could” rather than “we have to”; and “opportunity” rather than “challenge”.
  3. Be both personal and visionary! Understand employees’ concerns and dissatisfactions; but know when to play the leader role too and stay future focussed about how and why the business needs to change.
  4. Be authentic and build trust – the best leaders engage and connect with their people, act with integrity; but above all they care and they demonstrate passion and commitment. Trust is not established oversight, it’s built through series of consistent actions over a period of time; lead by example and walk the talk; volunteer information, but above all deliver on your promises
  5. Demonstrate empathy – show employees that you care about the wellbeing and their future; take the time to listen and play out some of the concerns; and be honest and realistic about where you can help

 

Some helpful Change management techniques and activities:

  • Plan your communications – Leadership conveys the vision and how the business will reach its goal; local managers provide relevant context and work with people on how change will happen; everyone affected by the change is given the chance to have their say. Change management practices involve stakeholder mapping so the people are considered and given opportunity to have meaningful input through communications planning.
  • Build the case for change – communicate the ‘burning platform’ repeatedly; make the drivers for change absolutely clear so that the status quo becomes unfeasible.
  • Proactively manage resistance – there are a number of tactics in my earlier blog

The bottom line? Change is all about people no matter the original driver or whether the project is seen as primarily technology or process or operational. The more positively we communicate change, the more we engage people affected by change, the more beneficial and sustainable results will be.

 

Further resources:

Engagement and communications channels download

Looking ahead: the future role of internal communications

The drivers of change in internal communications aren’t tools and technology, they come from the business and its people.

When thinking about the future of in internal communications, we often think about developments in technology and the possible channels we may be able to use to communicate to employees, e.g. isn’t there an app we can use to update Linda’s team in Liverpool?

However, there is more to internal communications than screens and cables. To be truly effective in the way you communicate to staff, you need to understand how people work (together) and how this changes over time.

Here are some of the top business trends I’ve picked up this year so far:

Trust and transparency top the agenda

In a post-recession era, many organisations – and not just big banking – are slowly rebuilding trust with their customers, but also with their employees. Companies who haven’t made this a priority are slowly losing customers and employees to competitors.

It’s no surprise that we can see investments being made into ‘employer branding’ and more engaging content.

Ultimately communications campaigns seem to becoming more transparent, factual and collaborative: closed boardroom meetings and corporate reports are being replaced by online conferences and blogs.

 

Architecture to promote collaboration

Themes of trust and transparency carry through into modern architecture, where new office designs now offer more collaborative spaces and flexible desk units.

These new ways of working affect the way employees communicate with each other, but also how employers reach out to them. There is a clear trend of communications to become an enabler for open, transparent, and collaborative conversations amongst staff – be it digitally or face-to-face.

We tend to customise communications to the way teams work with each other, and think about when, how and where they receive information.

 

Smarter spending and streamlining

Many corporations continue to tighten their belts and streamline the workforce – Barclay’s loss of 19,000 jobs over the next three years is just one example (1) – and I often notice clients’ hesitancy when being asked to spend big. This is only justified. Because investing smart should be a priority, and even small technology investments can have a big impact.

Customised business applications and social media campaigns are slowly taking over expensive events and print campaigns. We can see continuous growth in collaborative technologies such as intranets and enterprise social networks.

 

Better access to communications

International workers bring different ways of working and culturally different communications preferences with them. At the same time we see a quicker turn-around of employees across most industries.*

These factors increase employee diversity, and there is real employee demand for a larger choice of communications channels; a prerogative only supported by digital media.

Today’s workforce also demands flexibility, e.g. working from home or working late at night is become more and more common. There is a strong movement towards implementing a ‘mobile use only’ workforce, and in some instances the encouragement of ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (4), both of which bring additional flexibility to employee’s ways of working, but also change the way employers communicate to them.

Internal campaigns have started to embrace the ‘mobile comes first’ (5) movement, and have started to design content for mobile technologies only.

 

Rising investments into data protection

Last but not least, the growth in new technologies also requires a look-out for further security protocols. No company should ever live without its social media rules and a sound crisis communications manual.

Monitoring communications and engaging employees through community management ensures all stakeholders get their say, knowledge isn’t lost, and different communities feel engaged and appreciated at all times.

Over all, we can see some clear trends dominating internal communications – such as more collaborative employee platforms and transparent communications. Make the most of them, and never stop listening to what people have to say.

Employee opinions will help you understand which communications work, and which ones do not, and they will help you prepare for the future.

 

*Less and less UK employees remain in the same position for more than three years. (2) Government has also phased out retirement age (3) and our working population ages more quickly. At the same time younger workforces starts to arrive on-site as unpaid interns.

Sources:

  1. Barclay’s loss of 19,000 jobs over the next three years is just one example
  2. http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=TENURE_AVE#
  3. https://www.gov.uk/retirement-age
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bring_your_own_device
  5. http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/webdev/2012/07/22/mobile-comes-first-responsive-web-design-in-a-mobile-world/
  6. https://www.melcrum.com/research/build-and-manage-ic-function/what-does-future-hold-internal-communication
  7. http://www.slideshare.net/TreforSmith/internal-comms-2014