A Communications Plan Is Not Change Management
Written by Tim Creasey
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.
Understand and Debunk the Myth
1. Research shows that communication is the number three contributor to success.
Prosci Best Practices in Change Management research identifies active and visible executive sponsorship as the number one contributor to overall project success. A structured change management approach is number two. Frequent, open communication is important to change management but ranks as number three 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.
2. People don't understand what change management really means.
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 change management process. You must also develop change management plans to support the change at the organizational level. These start with the ADKAR Blueprint and core plans, including the Sponsor Plan, People Manager Plan, Training Plan and Communications Plan, along with any extend plans you need, such as a Resistance Management Plan. And don't forget that from the individual perspective, change management is about helping employees move through awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement (ADKAR Model). The process is far more involved than simply communicating.
3. Communication plans don't reflect an understanding of how individuals experience change.
Although project teams may have communications 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 the communications 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 the communications plan focuses on the ADKAR building blocks they affect.
4. Communications plans ignore key research findings about preferred senders.
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.
5. Communications plans focus on informing employees about the future state.
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.
Change Management Is More Than Communication
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.