Carol Kinsey Goman

Article Summary:

Here are five ways to add strategic value to your change management communications.

Change Management Communications: Five Ways To Add Strategic Value

Question: What’s the secret of real estate? Answer: Location, location, location.

Question: What’s the secret of organizational change? Answer: Communication, communication, communication.

Which is not to say that the top-down cascade communication strategies of the past are sufficient. They’re not. What is taking their place is a broader, more inclusive definition of communication. Here are five ways to add strategic value to your change communications.

1. Don’t just recite the facts – interpret them. Facts are neutral. People make decisions based on what facts mean to them, not on the data itself. What people really want to know is, “What sense do you make of this? What is the conclusion? What does it mean to us?”

2. Utilize the power of symbolic communication. There are a thousand ways to communicate symbolically. There are ceremonies, awards, logos, icons, drawings, and metaphors. Best of all, there are real-life leadership behaviors that “speak” volumes.

Folks at BBC still remember when Michael Grade, then controller and now director-general of BBC One, visited the news department one day when they were short-staffed. He pitched in and acted as a junior researcher to cover a shipwreck incident, finding a member of the coast guard to interview. That example raced through the company grapevine to become a positive symbol of corporate culture change.

3. Tell more stories. Storytelling is an important tool to connect with audiences on an emotional level. In communication terms, storytelling is a “pull” strategy, in which listeners are invited to participate in the experience and to imagine acting in the mental movie that the storyteller is presenting. Stories resonate with adults in ways that can bring them back to a childlike open-mindedness — in which they are less resistant to new and different ideas.

4. Turn first line supervisors into first-rate communicators. There’s little doubt that one’s direct boss is a crucial link in the change-communication delivery system. Who better to align employee efforts to the change goals? But most first-line supervisor are lacking a key communication element.

While consulting for a utility company in New York, I was observing several supervisors delivering a change message to their teams. As you would expect, there was a great variety of styles and expertise on display: Some managers were glib ad-libbers while others were stilted and read from a script. Some were well liked and others were barely tolerated by the people they managed. But all the supervisors had one weakness in common. Not one of them had the training or skills to turn a monologue into a dialogue.

5. Harvest the grapevine. Research suggests that up to 70% of all organization information circulates through the grapevine, yet few communicators have taken advantage of the informal channels in their organizations. Gossip moves through people who gravitate into an intermediate position, making connections between individuals and factions. Those who control the gossip flow hold a lot of power.

Influencing the grapevine, then, begins with identifying “the influentials” who operate within it. Use a tool like Social Network Analysis to create a visual map of the informal organization and see who and where your connectors are. Find out about their attitudes toward the company, inform them in advance, train them to be even more skillful communicators, solicit their opinions, and ask their advice.

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., coaches executives, facilitates management retreats, helps change teams develop strategies, and delivers keynote speeches and seminars to association and business audiences around the world. She is the author of nine business books, including: “The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work,”   “This Isn’t the Company I Joined: How to Lead in a Business Turned Upside Down,”   and “Managing in the Global Organization.”   Carol can be reached by phone: 510-526-1727, or through her website:

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