Throughout years of research and helping clients develop individual, project and organizational change capabilities, we have come across several common objections to change management. Addressing these "myths" is key to bringing change management into the organization as both a tool to use on specific changes and as an organizational competency.

This tutorial looks specifically at myth #2: "I have a communication plan, isn’t that enough?"

Root causes of this myth:

There are a variety of reasons that you might hear the objection: "I have a communication plan, isn’t that enough?" Below are some common reasons for this objection to participation in change management followed by actions you can take to address the specific objection.

1. Best practices show that communication is the number three contributor to success. There are other factors that play a greater role in your change being implemented well and meeting its objectives.

The Best Practices in Change Management Report identified the role of the executive sponsor as the number one contributor to overall project success. Number two was the use of a structured change management process and tools. While communication is important, there are other factors that need to be considered. Use benchmarking data and examples from your organization to show the 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.

2. There is not an understanding of what change management really means. This is a case of - "you can't change what you don't know" - a lack of knowledge of what change management really is.

Your job is to show the organization that change management is more than just communication. It is a holistic process for implementing change successfully in an organization. It is the set of tools that allows management to accelerate the speed of adoption and overall participation in change. Change management is a process of understanding the situation of the change and developing complete plans to support the change. A complete change management process includes preparing for change, managing change and reinforcing change. From an organizational perspective, change management includes tools like sponsor roadmaps, coaching plans, training plans and resistance management plans - in addition to communication plans. From an individual perspective, change management is about helping employees build Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement (The Prosci ADKAR Model). There are a number of ways to build this understanding.

The Change Management eToolkit provides step-by-step instructions for applying a holistic change management process, including templates for developing each of the plans mentioned above.

3. Communication plans are not based on an understanding of how individuals go through change.

Although project teams may have communication plans, they may not be sending the right messages. Teach those who are developing communication plans the ADKAR Model of individual change management. The ADKAR Model describes the building blocks of successful change, it also prescribes what information must be communicated to help individuals go through change. With an understanding of the ADKAR Model, those who are developing communication plans have a better focus on the results they are trying to achieve. Rather than focusing on 'communicating', projects begin focusing on 'building Awareness' or 'building Desire' - this focus on the outcomes you are trying to achieve increases the impact of organizational communication. Additionally, you must pick the right tool for building the ADKAR elements. You cannot train Awareness, and you cannot communicate Ability. Ensure that communication plans focus on the ADKAR building blocks that they can truly affect.

4. Communication plans do not incorporate best practice findings on preferred senders of messages.

Best practices research shows two preferred senders of messages related to change. For the messages about the business reasons for change (including why the change is taking place, the risks of not changing, competitive and customer issues), employees want to hear from the senior leaders who are authorizing and funding the change. For the messages about the personal impact of the change (WIIFM - What's In It For Me), employees want to hear from their immediate supervisors. A communication plan that does not incorporate these findings will not be as 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 communication plans send the right messages to the right audiences at the right time and by the right sender.

5. Although there are communication plans, they are focused on telling employees about the future state. Project teams can fall into the trap, understandably so, of becoming centrally focused on the future state and ignoring communication about the current state.

First, it makes sense that project teams focus on their solution. This is what you want - your project teams consumed by capturing opportunities and solving problems. However, because the future state is the context that project teams live in, it influences what is included in a communication plan. Ensure that communication plans answer the questions that employees want answered. In the empowered workforces of today, the first questions are related to the reasons behind the change, 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 is not understanding why a change is taking place - and a general communication plan not based on change management principles and best practices may not address this root cause of resistance (the Best Practices in Change Management report has an entire section on communication). Communication in the organization must be targeted to the audience and answer their specific questions and concerns to be effective - which often means talking about the current state and not just the future state.

SUMMARY

"I have a communication plan, isn’t that enough?"

  • While communication is important, change management does not equal effective communications. Change management also includes sponsorship, coaching, proactive resistance management, training and reinforcement.
  • It is great that you have a communication plan - but make sure you customize messages for specific audiences and think through the right timing, mechanism, content and sender. Also remember that benchmarking data shows that employees prefer to get change messages from two senders - senior leaders and immediate supervisors.
  • You may be telling employees what you are doing, but these are not the only messages they want to hear. The top reason for resistance among employees is a lack of awareness of the need for change - why is the change taking place. Are you answering this question in your communication?

 

Remember, when you ask a project leader or project team to apply change management, you are asking them to make a change to how they do their jobs (the same is true when asking senior leaders to be sponsors of change, or supervisors to be coaches of change). The ADKAR Model can be applied to understand the key building blocks for individuals to make the change (i.e. "applying change management") successful.

  • Awareness of the need to apply change management process and principles
  • Desire to participate and support the application of change management
  • Knowledge on how to fulfill my role in change management
  • Ability to implement the skills and behaviors of my role in change management
  • Reinforcement® to sustain the use of change management

Project teams are a key source of information related to the details of the change, and they will be crucial partners in efforts to integrate change management and project management activities. Understanding the most common change management myths and objections will help you facilitate the individual change of "applying change management" with your project leaders and team members.

 

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Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

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.