Throw out the Gantt Chart! (And other top tips for change communicators)

By Alison Arnot FCIPR, CIPR Trainer and Director at Catalyst Communications,

Successful change relies on the willing and effective support of all the different people in your organisation and it makes sense that open, honest and regular conversation is the best way to secure this.

At the same time, we know major change can trigger a profound emotional response in any of us – and enforced change can uncover deeper fears or anxieties and a sense of personal loss that we need time and help in working through.

Whether you’re dealing with major relocation, redundancies, merger or simply changing the way you ask people to use their desk space or bins, it’s helpful to remember that the way your audience are feeling at any given time affects their ability to interpret messages and share information with each other.

So how do you maintain a meaningful discussion where people are understandably defensive and afraid?

Here are my top tips:

Throw out the Gantt chart! Planning is important and it’s a great idea to be clear what you’ll say to who, when and how – but conversing by numbers doesn’t work for anyone, least of all those in an already emotional state. Be present in the moment, talk to people on their terms and respond directly and in a sensitive and flexible manner.

Step into another shoe: As a change communicator, you’re (hopefully!) closely involved with the project and can see how and why decisions are made. While this is beneficial, it also puts you in a different emotional and intellectual state to your audience so can throw up difficulties too. If it seems people simply ‘don’t get it’, try to rethink what they want and need to hear, rather than assume you know what they’re ready for. 

Aim for authenticity: Deliver your messages as clearly, carefully and honestly as you can. Check they reflect the real experiences of those directly affected, and that they’re sympathetic to how people feel right now. Personalise your content, honour your promises and place a sharp focus on leadership responsibility if you want to achieve trust and eventually advocacy from your team.

Involve people and give them a role to play: Often people resist change because they feel undervalued, uninvolved, and out of control. Talking about what you want to protect and creating a sincere and ongoing opportunity for people to offer advice, feedback and suggestions encourages interest, calms fears and generates some good ideas.

Finally, understand that there is no ‘off the shelf’ version of best practice. Your organisation, your situation and your people are unique and they may feel differently one day than they do another. Insight is everything, and if you can be flexible to their specific needs and work hard to understand what they’re really telling you, you’ll be better placed to have them understand you and accept what you’re trying to say.

Alison is hosting a course on Change Communications in Glasgow on October 18th. To find out more click here.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


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