You're doing change communications wrong.


Hands up if you know an organisation that is implementing some kind of digital transformation.

It seems like no matter where you look, organisations are scrambling to make the most of the technology that is sweeping the marketplace. All with promises to increase productivity, reduce double handling and therefore increase staff work life balance. Which is, of course, necessary as the access people have to technology at home is now far greater than what they have at work and the expectations of organisations are increasing.

It is how we communicate these transformational changes to organisations that has piqued my interest of late.

It’s common practice to bring staff on a journey of transformation by sending a carefully articulated email (that has probably been reviewed by a communications specialist, L&D Manager, OD specialist, myriad of subject matter experts and if you are really lucky, some form of change agent). This email, carefully over-scripted right down to the tone, will be sent out by a senior executive of the CEO only to get buried in the inbox alongside the other 1000 emails of staff inboxes.

Sound familiar? (I have been guilty of this, too - oh so guilty.) You might even have suggested something radical like, “We should tell staff this face to face, they might actually have questions and be interested in the changes” and received the response of, “But we have to have a paper trail” or “People are too busy and won't show up.” It’s all too common.

If you are approaching digital transformation or in fact any kind of transformation, (I know, buzzword bingo - sorry!) here are 5 things from an employee perspective that you should take into consideration before you respond to that content review request:

1. Tell me why I should be interested

As an active and engaged employee, tell me why I should take interest in your carefully scripted communications piece?

Simon Sinek said famously, “Find your 'why' and you will find your way”. This was in reference to purpose but it works for change communications. Does it mean that they will receive extra training and be more employable? Will it change the location of where they work or increase flexibility? The point is to connect the message to the why.


2. Be clear on the purpose of the communications

If you want me to do something differently as result, tell me what it is. Do you want people to be aware or excited about what is coming? (Don't send an email if this is the case!) Should people attend training or download software?

Be clear on that action required from your communications; more importantly, don't bury the important information in the bottom of an email. The message will just get lost. After all, how many long emails do you regularly read?


3. Think about the way you are communicating the message

Transformation is by its very definition a 'marked change in form, nature or appearance'. If we are trying to bring staff on a change journey, why would we send a stagnant email when they usually just communicate business tasks and actions?

Remember: this email would need to stand out from the other 100 emails sitting in a person's inbox. Truly think outside the box; could it be a video message? A cartoon strip? Even writing the message on a horse and having it ride through the office could be better.

Ok, maybe not that one. The key thing here is understanding who your people are and how they want to be communicated with. Find that intricate balance between what you want to tell them and what and how they want to know.


4. Take me along on a journey with you

If you must send an email, bring it to life for me. Best practices in change management tells us that people want to hear about changes that impact their role from their line managers. Even if you have carefully considered the message and the why and the what are en pointe, you still need to consider how people will interpret it.

One way that you could approach this is to let managers share talking points at a team huddle. They should reinforce what the greatly-communicated message means and what it means to their team.


5. Keep in mind, we all respond differently to change

People will bring past experiences of change to this change whether it’s positive/negative and at this organisation or another. More than that, we are hard-wired not to like change! The culprit is the limbic system which is the emotional centre of our brain;, when we are presented with change it can be perceived as a threat. Think back to cave-man days; change meant we didn’t know where predators were, where the next meal came from and even where the watering hole was. We have evolved but the core functions of our brain have not.

Changing behaviour takes effort and it will be a different level of effort for everyone. If the neuroscience of change interests you, check out this article from the amazing Sue Langley


So, next time you are sitting in a meeting about communicating a change initiative or receive an email asking you to review content for someone else to send out, think about the person reading the message.

Will they read it and know what it means for them? Will they connect with the message or should you communicate in a different way? Meet your people where they are, and your comms will be the first thing they take notice of that day.


Prosci, 2016, Best Practices in Change Management

Rachael Meredith