Communication, engagement, mobilization - Change Management

In discussing the identification and positioning of stakeholders we’ve already touched upon how we might communicate with them. Now, given the different natures of the change approaches there may or may not have been adegree of prior communication and stakeholder engagement. The notion that it is only at the stage of implementation that you’ll be engaging with stakeholders would be very wrong. The evidence from the case studies suggests the need for identification and communication with stakeholders at an early stage in the change process.

Daft (1997) defines communication as: ‘the process by which information is exchanged and understood by two or more people, usually with the intent to motivate or influence behaviour’. Witherspoon and Wohlert (1996) state, with in the context of organizational change, that: Communication is the process on which the initiation and maintenance of organizational change depends… Ultimately the success of any change effort depends on how effectively the strategy for and the substance of the change is communicated to those who are the targets of change.

Both of these quotes are drawn from Frahm’s paper on organizational change communication (2003), which began to look at the differences between what he calls the ‘monologic’ and ‘dialogic’ approaches. The first, giving a monologue,tends to be top-down and directed at targeted groups in, most likely, one-way communication. He suggests that currently many organizations see communication merely as part of the management function, which has a monologic approach as the default option:

In the absence of genuine commitment and understanding of communication practices that construct new meaning and processes, the organization relies heavily on a linear communication model and adhoc responses. Based on the findings of the first data collection, monologic communication was not improving change receptivity; rather it was decreasing it, and creating cynicism about change.

Given the importance of communication during times of change he suggests, and the initial research indicates, that a move towards the dialogic approach will aid successful change, however:

There are times when receptivity of change will not be an issue, and then dialogic approaches are not so important… Finally, dialogic approaches are costly. They run the risk of ‘too much talk and not enough action’. Further, just as it takes someone skilled enough to communicate on this level, it takes expertise in knowing how to take the dialogue into a tangible outcome, one that can be recognized for its value to the organization. However, if, as some suggest, up to 75% of popular change management programs fail (Beer et al, 1990), perhaps the high cost of dialogue is not as great as failed implementations and additional change consultants.

The purpose of communication is to move people from one position to another in terms of their awareness, knowledge, support or commitment to the change. In that respect we could see the process as a marketing challenge and use the AIDA(S) framework, which highlights the generic stages that someone would typically go through when experiencing a change:

  • A is the need to capture their Attention and increase their Awareness of the change.
  • I is the need to gain their Interest in the change usually through highlighting the features, qualities, and benefits of the change.
  • D is for Desire. Having gained their attention and interest there is the need now for them to be positively inclined to the change; the more they can want it and see the benefits of it the more they will be drawn towards it.
  • A is for the Action that will then happen. Change involves changes in behaviour with people doing things differently; if the communication doesn’t have this affect then it has probably failed.
  • S is for the Satisfaction or realization of the benefits that the person experiences.

This becomes a link into the person’s propensity for further change or, if there is satisfaction arising from short-term wins, then this will encourage further commitment to this change.

Arnstein (1969) looked at the degree of participation of citizens in planning change and her ‘ladder of participation’, though obviously looking at community change, is none the less extremely relevant when thinking about engaging with stakeholders. As you work your way up the ladder, consider the level of communication with in your organization and think also how some of these approaches fit with different types of change.

The first two rungs of the ladder are really about non-participation, with the goals of the initiator to direct people or ‘do to’ them, or ‘cure’ them as if something were wrong and they had no views themselves. The initiators have the best plan, the best ideas, the best way forward and the aim of this (non participatory) participation is to acknowledge that.

The third rung is that of informing, which is probably the first step on the way to full participation and dialogue. It forms the basis of communication even if it is only one-way communication. Of course the distinction can be made between informing someone before or after the event and also informing someone before or after they have heard the news from some other source, be it television, radio or the company grapevine.

Consultation is the fourth rung and can take the form of genuine two-way information flows, or mere window-dressing with the decision already having been made.

Arnstein uses the term ‘placation’ for describing the use of communication as a way of placating stakeholders but not necessarily addressing the real issues. Unions or employee representatives, for example, might be invited on to advisory boards or involved in some negotiations but those in power retain the right to make their own decisions unilaterally.

The sixth rung is that of partnership. Power is redistributed from those who traditionally hold power to include those stakeholders who can contribute to the process of change with negotiations, joint planning and decision making. It seems at this level there is a genuine desire to enter into dialogue with no prior decision as to what or how the change needs to be managed.

The ‘ladder of participation’

The ‘ladder of participation’

Delegated power is the seventh rung of the ladder and stakeholders are given power and responsibility to decide on some of the issues related to the change without reference back. They have a mandate to take ownership and accountability of their part of the programme.

In Arnstein’s schema the final rung would be citizen control. Translated into an organizational change context, responsibility for the change would be given to the people most affected by the change.

If you were to map this ladder against the top-down/bottom-up – planned/emergent matrix , then as you went up Arnstein’s ladder you would notice a shift from the change being a top-down/planned approach to a bottom-up/emergent approach.

The purpose of communication at this mobilization stage is to move people up through the levels of attention and awareness, interest, desire and action. It’ll be your choice as change agent as to how much engagement you want from the different stakeholders. Fundamentally you will need to decide who you want to communicate with; what you want to say or discuss; when you want the process to begin; and how you want to communicate.

  • The to who should be generated from your stakeholder analysis in terms of those who are most affected and those who you want actively engaged in the process.
  • The what should emerge from your understanding of the stakeholders’needs and how much you may wish to communicate with them.
  • The when will be a mixture of the timing of the change management process; the degree of cooperation you need; and the values with in which your organization is working.
  • The from whom is defined by deciding which stakeholders need communication from whom in the organization – investors will probably need the CEO or Director of Finance; employees may need their line manager and a change sponsor.
  • The how will be determined by the nature of the stakeholder groups; the nature and consequences of the change; once again the organizational values; and the capacity and budget of the change team.

If we return to the adapted change equation at the beginning of the chapter we can develop a communication grid which is most appropriate for the different stakeholder groups.

Communication grid

Communication grid

Depending on the stakeholders concerned, you may wish to focus on the current need to change or you may wish to focus on the vision. If you truly want a shared vision then you need to decide which group of stakeholders you wish to be part of that vision, which in turn will lead to when you need to communicate (before, during or after the vision creation!) How you might go about this will also be driven by those decisions.

Capacity and capability feed into addressing the readiness for change of the organization and the resources available for the change, the change team and line managers. Communicating actionable first steps, apart from grounding the change in reality, is a crucial way of engaging people in the actual doing of the change and eliciting some quick wins early on.

By having a column entitled ‘resistance to change’ in your communication grid you are immediately able to devote some time and energy to seeing where these resistances may occur and then thinking through some strategies for addressing them.

The how, that is the medium of communication, can take the form of being rich or lean. ‘Rich’ would involve higher personal contact (be it individual, small or larger group) and probably operate on a ‘deeper’ level of connecting more with people’s emotions. ‘Lean’ would focus less on personal contact and at a more rational and superficial level.

Many organizations now invest heavily in communicating with their stakeholders,especially in times of change, but of course there are many different ways of doing this. Figure above lists a number of methods, based on the dimensions of lean to rich and monologic to dialogic. Important points to remember are to match the communication method to the type of engagement you want and to ensure the sequence enables feedback, if that is what you want or need. This will change through time.

In Making Sense of Change Management (Cameron and Green, 2004) we discussed communication in times of restructuring:

Communication in any change is absolutely essential. However, communications are often variable. There is sometimes too much communication, but more often too little too late. An added problem is communication by e-mail. This is such a useful mechanism when managers need large numbers of people to receive the same information at the same time, but it is so impersonal and so heartless when delivering messages of an emotional and potentially threatening nature.

The more tailored or personalized approach the better. The greater the access to people who know the answers to the important questions the better. FAQs (frequently asked questions) are useful to compile and communicate, but don’t expect this to be the end of the story. Just because you think you have told someone something it doesn’t mean to say they have heard it or assimilated it or believed. People do strange things under stress like not listen. And they need to see the whites of your eyes when you respond!

Communication methods

Communication methods

Key questions in peoples’ minds will be:

  • What is the purpose of the restructure?
  • How it will it operate in practice?
  • Who will be affected and how?
  • What are the steps along the way, including milestones and time scales?
  • How will new posts be filled and people selected?
  • What happens to the others?
  • Where do you go to get help and how do you get involved?
  • What is the new structure and what are the new roles?
    What new behaviours will be required?
  • Will training and development will be provided?

Communication needs to be well planned and these plans need to be clear about how to get the right information to the right people at the right time through the right medium (for the recipient). This includes well-presented briefing notes for managers if they are to be the channel for further communication.

It is also worth checking for understanding before these messengers are required to communicate the message. Change in any form can trigger a number of emotional responses. If the messages can be personalized the recipient is more likely to receive them in a better frame of mind. Personalized messages, ie face-to-face and one-to-one communication, are especially relevant when that individual may be adversely affected by the change.

Different communities of interest have different needs when it comes to communications. Some people will need to be involved, some consulted and some told. It is important that the right people get the appropriate level of communication. It is important for them and it is important for those around them. If your manager is seen to be ignored, what does it say about the value of your work section?

Thought needs to be given to the recipients of the communication. Those responsible for communicating need to ask:

  • What are their needs for information?
  • What is their preferred form of communication?
  • When is the best time for them to be communicated with?

For example, people in a contact centre just may not have the time to read endlessly long e-mails informing them of changes in other parts of the business.

However, they would probably like to be told face-to-face of events that will involve changes to their management structure, or the introduction of a new way of working.

To prevent the rumour mill growing it is important that communication is timely and reaches each of the chosen communities at the agreed time. ‘Start –Stop – Start again’ communications don’t help either. A continuing flow of communication will engender more confidence in the change process.

Difference and the cultural dimension

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