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The importance of storytelling for business change

With continual change becoming the new norm for modern business, the chances are, no matter what industry or sector you work in, that you’ve experienced work-based change first-hand at least once during your career.

Most of us are able to recount our experiences of being involved in change to varying degrees, and we most certainly have our opinions on whether we feel we really understood the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’.
Let’s be honest, business case language can be fairly dry and statistics can be pretty dull on their own – they aren’t compelling to the majority of the workforce and certainly don’t convey a meaningful story. But, all too often, we hear of organisations who haven’t adequately considered their change story, what it means to the organisation outside of the boardroom, and how they are going to ensure that all areas of their workforce really understand it and get behind it. I’m sure that most of you reading this have experienced business change where you were left thinking ‘why are we doing this, and what does this mean for me?’

So what’s the importance of the change story?

We know that people are much more likely to get on-board with organisational change if they feel they understand the ‘why?’ This includes the reason for change, and for changing right now, what the change looks like, and most importantly – what it means for them.
This means taking the business case as a starting point and turning it into a meaningful, honest narrative which speaks to everyone.

As change and communication experts, we know that you won’t find the whole story in the boardroom. You need to build up a rounded picture, and this could involve desk research (engagement surveys, for example), benchmarking surveys, focus groups and one-to-one interviews with people from the affected teams.

There are a number of ways to extract the narrative and co-create the story with people, building on the business case

  • Find out how things work at the moment – how does ‘stuff’ get done and do people think it generally works well? If there’s a consensus that it doesn’t– why is that?
  • Explain why things are changing and ask how and why the old ways of working can be improved.
  • Explain what will happen if the business doesn’t change.
  • Ask how people think they can go about changing – what do they need to commit to, where will they need support and are there any ‘quick wins’ which can help to get things moving forward.

Read our blog post on Storytelling techniques

Weaving the story into communications and engagement

After the story is uncovered there are a range of options to bring information, like statistics, the business case and details of technology-change to life.

The one-pager

The communications framework is your one-page summary of the story. It will contain facts but also the key messages, the language, and learnings from the engagement and discovery work. Once you have this narrative recorded, your subsequent communications can carry the story and bring it to life.

Smart visual identity

a key part of telling the story is how it looks. A consistent visual identity will complement your core messaging and bring the story to life. This is your opportunity to create something visually compelling which provokes interest and curiosity and helps to bind your communications.

Characters

These give depth to a story and if you use names, department and showcase actual roles, people identify with them and trust the story more.

Using visuals

Infographics are helpful in visually showing statistics in a way that tell a story which involves data, in clear, simple terms.

Build the story as you go along

Building upon the story throughout the change ensures that it stays relevant and helps to keep people connected to it. A great example of this is helping people to create videos of their experiences – it means they get involved in telling the story and owning it. We’ve seen some great outputs from people working on the front line whether on rigs, on the rail or at local offices, and the result works well to unite people working in different places with similar experiences.

 

I Hope you found this useful.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the tactics listed here, or share your ideas.

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PPM, employee engagement and culture.

Subscribe here to start receiving a monthly roundup email from our Insights blog.

Change management tips – building the user journey

You may have heard the term ‘change journey’ before.  This describes the phase that an organisation will go through in making complex organisational, process and behavioural change.

Why describe this as a journey?

Whatever happens within the organisation – technical changes, new operating models, new systems and ways of working, it’s unlikely to be a straightforward move from A to B.  Many things will occur during the timeframe that will affect the transition, meaning the pace of change and resistance to it will vary – and things can be pretty unpredictable.

So why not apply the same principle to the people experiencing the change?  For employees to successfully change the way they work, they need to be supported in many ways.  This could involve classroom or online learning, support from managers or peers, regular communications or opportunities to share ideas.  Whatever these tactics are, they will need to be many and varied to be successful, and they should be staggered over time; designed to continually engage without being overpowering.

People going through change are essentially going on a voyage of discovery, and to help them navigate it there are a number of principles that you can apply to ensure they reach the desired outcomes.

1. Set foundations

Clarify the need for change, and be open and honest about it.  This may involve sharing bad news or information which might make people feel uncomfortable about the present state of the nation, but this will help them come to terms about the need to do something differently.  This is best coming from the leaders of the organisation – seeing them being open and transparent about change can really help get them onboard.

The outcome here is a universal, company-wide understanding of the rationale for change.

2. Create a ‘pull’

Develop a curiosity among your employees.  Show them what the change might mean for them – and do it creatively.  Try animations or video to bring the new way of working to life, and enhance this with roadshows so people can share their thoughts, concerns or ideas.

The outcome here is that people become interested and want to know more.

3. Develop capability

Understand the skills that people will need to thrive.  Drip feed it through the organisation using innovative new ways of sharing information – theory is great, but bring it to life using real life scenarios.  Think about a variety of media such as animation, infographics, live presentations and role plays – it doesn’t always have to be elearning alone.

The outcome is that people are aware of what they need to do differently.

4. Reinforce learning

Be proactive in developing methods to support people’s learning experience.  A ‘one and done’ approach often doesn’t work.  They’ll need opportunities to interact with and ask questions of colleagues, leaders and those further ahead on their change journey.  This might include a team of people to support colleagues through transitionary stages with subject matter expertise.  People need to know they are being supported rather than left to their own devices.

The outcome is that people are not only aware of what they need to do differently, but have had the chance to demonstrate some of the new skills or behaviours and talk about it with colleagues.

5. Sustain for the future – reward

The change project will eventually come to a close, and that can often mean an end to the tactics and support referred to in this blog.  It doesn’t have to be though – work with team leaders to identify ways in which the required skills and behaviours are not only still mandated, but recognised and rewarded.  Team leaders hold the key and you will need to make it easy for them to continue to champion the change and make it part of the way they naturally operate.

 

Hope you find this useful.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the tactics listed here, or share your ideas.

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PPM, employee engagement and culture.

Subscribe here to start receiving a monthly roundup email from our Insights blog.

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.

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

The importance of storytelling for business change

With continual change becoming the new norm for modern business, the chances are, no matter what industry or sector you work in, that you’ve experienced work-based change first-hand at least once during your career.

Most of us are able to recount our experiences of being involved in change to varying degrees, and we most certainly have our opinions on whether we feel we really understood the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’.
Let’s be honest, business case language can be fairly dry and statistics can be pretty dull on their own – they aren’t compelling to the majority of the workforce and certainly don’t convey a meaningful story. But, all too often, we hear of organisations who haven’t adequately considered their change story, what it means to the organisation outside of the boardroom, and how they are going to ensure that all areas of their workforce really understand it and get behind it. I’m sure that most of you reading this have experienced business change where you were left thinking ‘why are we doing this, and what does this mean for me?’

So what’s the importance of the change story?

We know that people are much more likely to get on-board with organisational change if they feel they understand the ‘why?’ This includes the reason for change, and for changing right now, what the change looks like, and most importantly – what it means for them.
This means taking the business case as a starting point and turning it into a meaningful, honest narrative which speaks to everyone.

As change and communication experts, we know that you won’t find the whole story in the boardroom. You need to build up a rounded picture, and this could involve desk research (engagement surveys, for example), benchmarking surveys, focus groups and one-to-one interviews with people from the affected teams.

There are a number of ways to extract the narrative and co-create the story with people, building on the business case

  • Find out how things work at the moment – how does ‘stuff’ get done and do people think it generally works well? If there’s a consensus that it doesn’t– why is that?
  • Explain why things are changing and ask how and why the old ways of working can be improved.
  • Explain what will happen if the business doesn’t change.
  • Ask how people think they can go about changing – what do they need to commit to, where will they need support and are there any ‘quick wins’ which can help to get things moving forward.

Read our blog post on Storytelling techniques

Weaving the story into communications and engagement

After the story is uncovered there are a range of options to bring information, like statistics, the business case and details of technology-change to life.

The one-pager

The communications framework is your one-page summary of the story. It will contain facts but also the key messages, the language, and learnings from the engagement and discovery work. Once you have this narrative recorded, your subsequent communications can carry the story and bring it to life.

Smart visual identity

a key part of telling the story is how it looks. A consistent visual identity will complement your core messaging and bring the story to life. This is your opportunity to create something visually compelling which provokes interest and curiosity and helps to bind your communications.

Characters

These give depth to a story and if you use names, department and showcase actual roles, people identify with them and trust the story more.

Using visuals

Infographics are helpful in visually showing statistics in a way that tell a story which involves data, in clear, simple terms.

Build the story as you go along

Building upon the story throughout the change ensures that it stays relevant and helps to keep people connected to it. A great example of this is helping people to create videos of their experiences – it means they get involved in telling the story and owning it. We’ve seen some great outputs from people working on the front line whether on rigs, on the rail or at local offices, and the result works well to unite people working in different places with similar experiences.

 

I Hope you found this useful.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the tactics listed here, or share your ideas.

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PPM, employee engagement and culture.

Subscribe here to start receiving a monthly roundup email from our Insights blog.

Change management tips – building the user journey

You may have heard the term ‘change journey’ before.  This describes the phase that an organisation will go through in making complex organisational, process and behavioural change.

Why describe this as a journey?

Whatever happens within the organisation – technical changes, new operating models, new systems and ways of working, it’s unlikely to be a straightforward move from A to B.  Many things will occur during the timeframe that will affect the transition, meaning the pace of change and resistance to it will vary – and things can be pretty unpredictable.

So why not apply the same principle to the people experiencing the change?  For employees to successfully change the way they work, they need to be supported in many ways.  This could involve classroom or online learning, support from managers or peers, regular communications or opportunities to share ideas.  Whatever these tactics are, they will need to be many and varied to be successful, and they should be staggered over time; designed to continually engage without being overpowering.

People going through change are essentially going on a voyage of discovery, and to help them navigate it there are a number of principles that you can apply to ensure they reach the desired outcomes.

1. Set foundations

Clarify the need for change, and be open and honest about it.  This may involve sharing bad news or information which might make people feel uncomfortable about the present state of the nation, but this will help them come to terms about the need to do something differently.  This is best coming from the leaders of the organisation – seeing them being open and transparent about change can really help get them onboard.

The outcome here is a universal, company-wide understanding of the rationale for change.

2. Create a ‘pull’

Develop a curiosity among your employees.  Show them what the change might mean for them – and do it creatively.  Try animations or video to bring the new way of working to life, and enhance this with roadshows so people can share their thoughts, concerns or ideas.

The outcome here is that people become interested and want to know more.

3. Develop capability

Understand the skills that people will need to thrive.  Drip feed it through the organisation using innovative new ways of sharing information – theory is great, but bring it to life using real life scenarios.  Think about a variety of media such as animation, infographics, live presentations and role plays – it doesn’t always have to be elearning alone.

The outcome is that people are aware of what they need to do differently.

4. Reinforce learning

Be proactive in developing methods to support people’s learning experience.  A ‘one and done’ approach often doesn’t work.  They’ll need opportunities to interact with and ask questions of colleagues, leaders and those further ahead on their change journey.  This might include a team of people to support colleagues through transitionary stages with subject matter expertise.  People need to know they are being supported rather than left to their own devices.

The outcome is that people are not only aware of what they need to do differently, but have had the chance to demonstrate some of the new skills or behaviours and talk about it with colleagues.

5. Sustain for the future – reward

The change project will eventually come to a close, and that can often mean an end to the tactics and support referred to in this blog.  It doesn’t have to be though – work with team leaders to identify ways in which the required skills and behaviours are not only still mandated, but recognised and rewarded.  Team leaders hold the key and you will need to make it easy for them to continue to champion the change and make it part of the way they naturally operate.

 

Hope you find this useful.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the tactics listed here, or share your ideas.

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PPM, employee engagement and culture.

Subscribe here to start receiving a monthly roundup email from our Insights blog.

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.

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.

Employee engagement tips for business change

Effective employee engagement within a project or programme of change is vital in making business change stick.

When developing an employee engagement strategy for a programme you could consider the following:

Stakeholder Analysis – what are people’s communications needs, how will the change impact each group?  And how can you keep them informed and supportive of your employee engagement programme?

Communications channels – What channels are available to encourage genuine two way feedback?  And what new ones can be introduced?

Learning and training – if there is learning and training to be delivered as part of the programme how do we make sure it is collaborative and adapts to the needs and continuous feedback of users?

Acting on feedback – Asking the right questions is only part of this; if you don’t start a conversation with the results, you won’t engage your audience.  Maintaining the conversation and interest is vital to achieving sustainable results.

So how can we interact powerfully and maintain employee engagement?

Leadership during business change needs to be active and involved in talking to people. Many project sponsors aren’t especially confident in walking the floor and talking to people. And if they’re not, then encouraging a presence online or at meetings is an alternative.

Forums, focus groups and workshops all give real opportunity for conversation – they are especially useful if employees are in one place. A community hub allows members of different teams to meet allows for the sharing and development of ideas and project and business objectives.

But what happens after the meetings?  A network of ‘change agents’ can keep the information flowing and gather continuous feedback.

Remote locations might not always be served well by physical meetings but an online Q&A with leadership and HR can serve to unite employees across different geographies.

Culture

Open and honest employee engagement needs the right company culture to support it. Different companies have various levels of openness. But employee engagement itself, although facilitated by a culture of openness, has the ability to produce it as well.

We worked with the head of a large health organisation and experienced how the closed culture stopped people from asking questions. We listened to people and submitted questions on their behalf anonymously and gradually people became more open and asked more themselves because it became clear it was safe to do so.

Culture change doesn’t happen overnight, but you can plant seeds that will grow over time.  Creating an open and safe culture in which people can ask questions is certainly beneficial but responding to and acting on that feedback achieves so much more.

 

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Common presentation mistakes

Giving a presentation to your client can be one of the most nerve-wracking experiences a consultant can go through. It’s pretty to avoid some common blunders.

There are plenty of tips out there suggesting what you should and shouldn’t do with PowerPoint or Prezi so I’m not going to replicate any of that.  Also, I won’t insult you by saying ‘do your homework’.  That’s a given – knowing your subject matter inside out is generally essential.  However, here are my top 5 things to avoid:

  • Using someone else’s material – responding to a query by saying ‘sorry, these aren’t my slides’, doesn’t look good.  You should always present your own information and be prepared to defend it.
  • Not knowing your audience – avoid any surprises by finding out who is going to be at the meeting. This will help you get the right level of information in your presentation.
  • Over-reliance on your slides – your content should be there to support you, not the other way around.  You want people to listen to you and not be distracted by the content on your slides.
  • Just reading your content – non-verbal communication is extremely powerful and should be used to full effect.  A strong and positive posture, eye contact and verbal delivery build credibility and add weight to your opinions.
  • Lecturing –  you’re probably an expert at what you do.  However, it’s important not to come across as if you know everything.  If your colleague wants to interrupt, or ask a question, let them.  Make it a discussion, and you’ll both come out of the meeting feeling better.

Finally, and probably most difficult if you’re nervous, try smiling.  People want to hear from you, so try not to look like it’s an ordeal.

Have you got any presentation tips or things to avoid?