Cassandra Richards, Account Director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies

In this economy, change is vital. But, it’s hard; hard to initiate and harder still to successfully implement. At last week’s Internal Communications Meet-up, Peter Hunt, senior associated at H+K Strategies Alberta talked about the challenges, and opportunities, this new reality brings for internal communicators.

With change now inevitable, what once was considered the “Cinderella” of communications has an opportunity to demonstrate how strong and strategic internal communications can have a real and lasting impact on the goals of the business. Developing this strategic plan must be built on what Peter calls the three critical contentions:

Contention 1: Facts won’t change feelings.

For many years, we were operating in the Age of Enlightenment – where facts, data and science seemed to trump feelings and emotions. This tide, however, is changing, and feelings are starting to hold as much meaning as facts. While employees will always need to know the details, it’s important to address the emotions that change brings about: fear, uncertainty, frustration, etc. and ensuring the company is listening to its employees as well.

Peter noted that people can deal with anything except uncertainty. Communicating during an emotional time means more frequent communication touchpoints with managers and senior leadership. While facts won’t change feelings, authentic and consistent communications can help to address the concerns that could be driving them.

Contention 2: Your audiences exist in a matrix

Beyond basic demographics like age, gender and organization level, people also tend to fall in five camps:

  1. Pioneers: excited for change, and can’t wait to be a part of it.
  2. Early Adapters: curious and interesting in the change and willing to be a part of it.
  3. Leadable Majority: not fussed either way, but happy to be brought on board.
  4. Traditionalist: unhappy about the change, and not sure of the rationale.
  5. Resistors: very unhappy about the change, and will raise objections to it.

Addressing all of these dimensions – demographics, organization level and change appetite – is not as simple as sending out a notice. It requires careful strategy to properly activate your organization’s communications cascade and engaging pioneers and early adapters in the process.

Contention 3: So, forget the village message board

By communicating, we are trying to effect change: change in the way people think, act, feel or behave. If we haven’t changed anything, in essence, we have failed. When thought of in this context, the “village message board” – posting information to intranets or other channels – is ineffective. Successful communications must step through four different phases:

  1. Awareness: Informing employees of the news
  2. Dialogue: Listen to employees, respond to questions and engage them in the process
  3. Agreement/Commitment: Gaining buy-in (even from small groups) for the rationale
  4. Change: Start small and spool outwards to the broader employee base

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