One of the most common objections to change management is the misguided belief that communications plans are all you need to manage change. This is a myth change practitioners know well, but others in your organization may not. And debunking it is critical to bringing change management into your organization for both project changes and organizational competency.
Prosci Best Practices in Change Management research identifies the executive sponsor role as the number one contributor to overall project success. Dedicated change management resources is number two. The use of a structured change management process and tools is number three, and employee engagement and participation is number four. Frequent, open communication is important to change management but ranks as number five on the list. Other factors play a greater role in implementing your change well and meeting objectives.
To challenge the communication-is-enough myth successfully, use benchmarking data and examples from your organization to reveal success factors other than communication. The Best Practices in Change Management report includes the top contributors to success and insights into each of the different change management tools.
People can't change what they don't know. Your job is to show the organization that change management is more than just communication. It's a holistic process for implementing change successfully in an organization. It's the set of tools that enables managers to accelerate the speed of adoption and overall participation in change. Change management is a process, which requires understanding all elements of the change, and moving through the process of preparing for change, managing change, and reinforcing change. You must also develop all five complete plans to support the change at the organizational level. These include the Sponsor Roadmap, Coaching Plan, Training Plan, and Resistance Management Plan—all in addition to the Communications Plan. And from the individual perspective, change management is about helping employees build awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement (ADKAR Model). The process is far more involved than simply communicating.
Although project teams may have communication plans, they may not be sending the right messages. It's important to teach those individuals the ADKAR Model, which describes the building blocks of successful change and the information to communicate to help individuals go through it. Understanding all this, those who develop communication plans are better able to focus on the key outcomes they're trying to achieve with change. Instead of offering only communications, project changes that leverage the ADKAR Model build awareness and desire, focusing individuals on the outcomes you want to achieve and enhancing the overall impact of organizational communications. Choosing the right tool for each ADKAR element also matters. You can't train awareness and you can't communicate ability. Your job is to ensure that communications plans focus on the ADKAR building blocks they affect.
Best practices research reveals two preferred senders of messages related to change. When it comes to the business reasons for the change, employees want to hear from the senior leaders authorizing and funding the change. They want to understand why the change is taking place, risks of not changing, and competitive and customer issues. When the message concerns the personal impacts of the change, or "What's In It For Me" (WIIFM), employees want to hear from their immediate supervisors. A communications plan that does not incorporate these findings will be less effective.
You need to prepare senior leaders to deliver business messages. You also need to prepare supervisors to deliver messages about how the change impacts employees specifically. Effective communications plans send the right messages to the right audiences at the right time and from the right sender.
(Source: Prosci Best Practices in Change Management report)
Project teams can fall into the trap of being centrally focused on the future state and ignoring communication about the current state. It makes sense that project teams focus on their solution. You want your project teams to be consumed with capturing opportunities and solving problems. However, because project teams live in the context of the future state, it influences the content of a communication plan. Ensure that your communications plans answer the questions that employees want answered. Today's empowered workforce asks questions about the reasons behind the change and not just the future state. A communication plan that focuses on the future state misses the point. In fact, research shows that the top reason for employee resistance to change is not understanding why a change is taking place. And a general communication plan that ignores change management principles and best practices may not address this root cause of resistance. Communication in the organization must be targeted to the audience and answer their specific questions and concerns to be effective, which means talking about both the current state as well as the future state.
Project teams are a key source of information and details about the change, and they will be crucial partners in your efforts to integrate change management and project management activities. Understanding the most common change management myths and objections, including the communication-is-enough myth, will help you facilitate more successful changes with your project leaders and team members.
Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.
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