The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management, published by McKinsey and Company, states that up to 70% of organisational change fails not because of outside factors, but due to employee attitudes and management behaviours. An organisation cannot always predict what influences will affect them from the outside, but when it comes to successfully implementing change, it is well within their power to manage how the process of change is received within their own teams.

The importance of effective communication to any change project making use of the ADKAR® model is, by now, well known. And though it’s the cornerstone of every step in the change management process, exactly what good communication looks like – and how poor communication can be improved to glean best results – is not always so straightforward.

When drawing up a communications plan, consideration of the message’s target audience, their concerns, and their likely responses to the proposed change, is critical to success. An effective plan will make use of all available channels to reach employees, and will include a mix of public and one-on-one communications, digital and real-world formats, and interactive sessions such as Q&A forums.

Picking the right “Sender”

Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management – 2014 Edition, reveals just how critical the delivery – and not just the content – of a message is. Its survey data shows that 40% of employees prefer executive sponsors and high-level decision-makers to act as messengers when it comes to business messages, but just 2% said they would prefer messages of a more personal nature to come through those same channels. On the other hand, a notable 69% of employees preferred their personal messages (for example, how a proposed change will impact their own day-to-day responsibilities and the teams within which they operate) to come from their direct supervisors.

Answering the right questions

People are naturally wary of the unfamiliar, and the success of any change project hinges upon each individual employee developing a sustained sense of desire and motivation to adhere to new policies and champion the change in the long run. What I have found is that it’s important to clearly and openly communicate the reason the change is being pursued, what sorts of daily advantages the employees can expect to experience as a result, and the possible consequences of not changing – both for the organisation and those working within it. These messages needed to be reinforced at regular intervals throughout the project. This was certainly the case in a long project I was involved in where we were changing semi-automated processes for 6000 employees, scattered around an entire country.

Assessing our progress

Were your employees receiving the messages that we were trying to convey? And if so, were they responding positively – with enthusiasm and optimism for the coming shift, or with uncertainty, doubt, and fear? These were the questions I found difficult to answer without engaging in ongoing critical assessment of our communications efforts. Assessment tools, such as email analytics and employee surveys were crucial to knowing how much of our message had been received, and what parts would have needed to be re-emphasised to ensure employee readiness for the change at hand. So, it was about repeating the message many times but also about watching how it was received and what feedback we got.

Employees feel a sense of uncertain anticipation when they know a change is coming, and in the absence of well-delivered, detailed information, there is always a tendency for them to make negative assumptions – an additional and stubborn barrier to a smooth transition. Having a well-structured communications plan in place is often an organisation’s best bet in ensuring this doesn’t happen.