Gina was running a workshop for employees participating in a pilot mentoring program. She was excited to be involved in designing the program, which she believed would offer new opportunities to high potential staff. So she was stunned when five minutes into her opening spiel, Tom announced that he didn’t want to be in the program. When Gina asked why Tom had enrolled in the voluntary program, he responded that his manager had forced him to attend. He believed the mentoring system was a management ploy aimed at controlling outspoken staff. His aggressive tone was not getting the session off to a good start.
Because she hadn’t predicted this scenario, Gina was left floundering. But if she’d planned her change message more thoroughly, this problem could have been nipped in the bud. There are four key principles to keep in mind when communicating about change.
1. Get your core message right… again and again
Take your lead from the advertising industry. Build your communications around a single, snappy tagline. High impact taglines tend to be ten words or less. And it helps to structure them using the ‘Because….we need to…’ formula. For example:
- Because of our success, we have to move.
- Because of customer feedback, we’re redesigning our website.
- Because we’re streamlining workflows, we’re introducing a new system.
Once you’ve got your wording right, repeat your tagline over and over again. Repetition makes information stick. This is particularly true when people enter the denial stage of change. To retain your message, they need to hear it at least seven times.
2. Use carrots and sticks
People embrace change when they know it benefits them. So you need to clearly explain why the change matters to your employees. They don’t care that moving to new premises will increase profitability. But they DO care that there will be more staff parking at the new site. Make your change message personal. Say things like:
- The new building is near a childcare centre and has an onsite gym.
- The self-serve functions on the website will reduce paperwork for you. That means you’ll be able to spend more time building quality relationships with your customers.
- The new system will free up the time you used to spend on data entry, so you can do more interesting projects.
Remember, too, that some people think in negatives. These people only support change if maintaining the status quo seems unappealing. So you need to spell out the pain which the change will help them avoid. For example:
- You don’t want to stay in cramped facilities with no access to childcare or gym facilities. Luckily, the new workspace will solve all those problems.
- I know you hate wasting time on paperwork, when you could be talking to customers. And the new website will cut your paperwork in half.
- Our current system is out-of-date and involves double-processing of data. The new system will eliminate that wasted effort.
3. Pre-empt objections
As Gina’s case illustrates, objections can be raised in any change scenario. Never assume that because you support an initiative, everyone else will too. Instead, identify the key objections employees might raise. And then plan to raise and deal with those objections before they can be thrown at you by a heckler. It helps to use the NLP pacing and leading process to do this.
- Start by observing the body language in the group. Match the most prevalent ‘hostile’ or ‘closed’ pose group members are exhibiting. Usually, this is an arms-crossed posture.
- Acknowledge that some people might have concerns. Do this by saying ‘Some of you might be worried about this change.’ Watch the group carefully at this point. People who are concerned will nod their heads. So you’ll know who to target during the next step.
- Make eye contact with potential objectors. At the same time, list three potential objections to the change. For example, if you were announcing an office relocation, you’d say ‘I know some of you might be anxious about travel times to the new site. Others might be concerned about access to childcare. And some of you could be wondering how customers will react to the change.’
- Deliver a positive linking statement. For example ‘And we’re working on minimising problems like this.’
- Reframe or address each problem, addressing issues in the same order you first raised them. For example, say ‘You’ll be pleased to hear the new office is a five minute walk from the train station. 446 and 448 buses also stop nearby. We’ve negotiated reduced fees at a nearby childcare centre. And we’re developing a communication package for our customers now.’
- Present your tagline, using it as a call for action.
4. Consult genuinely or not at all
If you want to create cynical, change-resistant mindsets, ask for staff for their input and then ignore it. But if you want employees to truly engage with change, you need to take a different approach. Set clear parameters before inviting their suggestions. Let people know the scope of input you’re seeking. For example, say ‘We’ve already chosen the location of the new office. So we don’t need input on where we’ll be moving. But we do want your ideas on how our new space can be set up to accommodate both staff and customers.’
Using these four principles will help you keep your change message on-target, easily absorbed and focussed on success. For more tips on handling difficult behaviour during change, buy Difficult People Made Easy.