Surprise Ingredient for Making Change Work: Communicating It!

When change moves so quickly, what often doesn’t move as fast is how the change is communicated. Oftentimes, organizations may have a one-time communication strategy or even one for about 90 days, however the kind of changes we are in today are ones that have lasting impact and bring changes upon the changes.

Knowing what to say won’t get you as far as understanding how to position the change itself. People go through shifting times differently and it can be a highly emotional time especially if people feel they are not being told what is really going on.

The truth is, people want a compelling why – why has something has changed and they want to be told the why again and again with reassurance and then to celebrate when they do something well under the new change.

One CEO once told me, “Why do we have to do spend our time messaging?  The change is not that significant we are just shifting some roles.” While that may be true, movement has impact on people’s perceptions on their workplace safety. The more thoughtful you can be as to communicating about the change often and giving people a place to share their thoughts and ideas, creates an environment of trust, respect and safety – key foundational elements which moves people through a change.

According to the book “Switch”, college students participated in a study seemingly about “food perception.” Researchers asked them to come to the lab without eating for at least three hours. When the students arrived they were brought into a room that had two bowls, one had warm, just baked chocolate chip cookies that smelled heavenly and the other bowl had radishes. The group was divided into two. One group ate the cookies and the other had to eat the radishes. Both groups had to resist eating the other’s bowl.

One group ate 2-3 cookies per person and some chocolate candies and the other group ate 2-3 radishes and no cookies. All followed the rules. The radish eaters only ate radishes and the cookie eaters only ate cookies.

Afterwards, another group of researchers came in and gave the students a series of puzzles. The students had to trace a complicated geometric shape without retracing any lines and without lifting their pencils from the paper.

The students who were asked to eat the cookies spent 19 minutes on the job and made 34 attempts to solve the problem. The radish eaters gave up after 8 minutes – less than half the time spent by the chocolate chip cookie eaters – and they only had 19 attempts.

What the students didn’t know is that the puzzles were designed to be unsolvable.

Why did the radish eaters stop so quickly? They ran out of self-control.  Psychologists found that self-control is exhaustible. The radish eaters gave their all at not eating the cookies and now had no more steam left to do anything else.

It’s tough to maintain self-control in a shifting environment when there is an emotional toll. The behaviors we do automatically does not exhaust us, it’s the ones where we are refraining or using some form of resistance that can cause us to burn out fast. It’s important when either putting a change in motion or shepherding a change or leading a change that occurred by outside circumstances (such as COVID-19), we need to take into account the boundless limitations we have as humans.

That’s why how we position change to others must be compelling. Here are questions to ask yourself to develop compelling messages. Think about one change you are going through that you want to position and ask yourself:

“What is the goal? What actions do you want people to take? If the message was a banner headline, how would it read?

  • When creating your messages consider answering the following questions:
    • What is the change exactly? Why change now?
    • What evidence is there that supports making this change?
    • What would happen if we did nothing?
    • What would happen to us if that occurred?
    • Is there anything that’s ending for people? E.g. ways of working, teams working on projects, leadership
    • How will this shift impact how we function as an organization and as people inside the organization?
    • What have we told our clients or stakeholders?
    • When is the change being implemented?
    • When will more information be available?
    • How will this change be positive and provide continuity and longevity for the company?

Begin crafting your message. Remember you may need different messages for different audiences even though they may still be on the same topic. For example, if you are going through employee layoffs, you will announce the layoffs and you may nuance the message for key leadership, stakeholders, team members, etc. Make sure you have a plan for timing – when you are delivering the message, how, where, how often, to whom and in what format. Your audiences may also be quite diverse so ensure you take this into account for generational and cultural differences.

Messaging is a consistent endeavor and not a one-time event.  If you find yourself positioning the change aggressively at the onset and then very infrequently as the months go on, think again. Your communication strategy ideally will have messaging points and tactics for at least 12 months if it is really a significant change.

Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect.

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