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Change Management Communications – It’s All About What Is Heard

Posted Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

So much of Organizational Change Management revolves around communications.  Communication-for-common-understandingIt begins with meeting the project manager to understand an initiative’s objectives, deliverables and timelines. Then it progresses to discussions with the sponsor to develop your plan to promote his or her influence. Soon after, you are presenting change management strategies and plans, crafting communiques – even facilitating stakeholder feedback sessions – all of which require well-rounded communication skills.

Yet we often forget the most basic law of communications; it’s not about what’s said, it’s about what’s heard.

In one recent change initiative, an organization of 700 employees (600 of whom were unionized) implemented an enterprise-wide business application. The application enabled employees to store and submit their resumes online while searching the company Intranet for job opportunities. With many employees working shifts, the system eliminated the need for employees to come in on days off to check the job boards or to hand-deliver resumes. They could do it all from their home’s Internet connection.

The convenience for employees was obvious, so the OCM communications stressed the system’s ease-of use, security and online access. Here’s what the change manager said:

“This application is from one the global leaders in human resources business applications. The online system is easy for employees to log into, search for new job opportunities, upload their resumes and apply for jobs. The system is secure and so much more convenient for employees to access than the current process. We will hold a lunch and learn in the large training room at noon today to demonstrate the system’s ease-of-use and convenient features.”

Here is what the union president heard:

“The employer wants union members to upload their personal information to servers hosted in a foreign country governed by foreign laws. The members’ information will be subject to invasive scrutiny, monitoring and surveillance.”   The president directed his members not to participate in the change.

The change manager, project manager and sponsor were perplexed when no one showed up for the lunch and learn session. There was a lot of leftover pizza.

When the organizational change manager consulted with the union president, the issue was resolved quickly and the 600 employees began to participate in the change. Now behind schedule, the implementation was eventually completed and the stakeholders grew to adopt the system. One quick check-in with the stakeholders to validate their understanding of the change would have prevented this misunderstanding and delay.

Even when you think you are communicating clearly and with the right messaging, validate your assumptions with stakeholders. Communications is not about what’s said, it’s about what’s heard.

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