“I Talk, You Listen”…Not Anymore! Achieving Results-Driven Communication

“I talk, you listen!” This phrase is a parent’s favorite, or at least it was for my parents! How many times have you been told to just listen while someone else talks, spewing tons of information your way, little of which is relevant to you? Had that person stopped to listen to what is important to you, the conversation would have been more effective.

In organizations, effective communication is imperative to achieve results. When your company changed to a new process or implemented a new software program to enhance production, were you communicated to effectively? Did someone tell you why things were changing or how these changes would affect you? If they did, how personal was the message? Did you have an opportunity to respond and provide feedback?

With the growing conveniences of modern technology, fewer people are taking the time to talk with others face-to-face, and when they do it’s in mass audience forums which are inherently designed to only pass along information – one-way communication. How can we expect our employees to execute our strategies, meet our expectations, and achieve the company goals if we aren’t diligent in communicating these very things? Understanding the need for change is the first step in creating new behaviors within your organization. If we assume that business processes will change as a result of your initiative then we must assume that behaviors, driven by habits and culture, will also need to change.

To drive behavioral change you must communicate the need for change as it relates first to the overall business, and second to you and me. There is an acronym in change management circles that defines the you and me -- it’s called WIIFM and it stands for “What’s In It For Me.” If we expect our people to demonstrate the new values of our business through their own behaviors, then they must understand why. We are not talking about how, which is easier to talk about. We are talking about what is changing that will affect me, and why the change is necessary in the first place.

Communication is paramount when trying to raise the level of understanding in your organization. Many public relations consultants will tell you that the key to communicating is to use multiple platforms or media to communicate the same message.

Most will tell you to communicate the same message three to six times, and I don’t disagree. However, I think too much emphasis is put on how to communicate instead of talking about what we should communicate and who should deliver the communications. Studies indicate that when communicating the business need for change the most effective communicator in your organization is the CEO. These same studies prove that when it comes to WIIFM, people want to hear from their direct supervisor. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

This point is very important when developing an effective communication plan. Matching the sender of your message with the receivers and what the receivers want to know, is the most successful approach to creating the level of understanding required to begin the change process. During the communication process you are beginning to prepare your organization for the transformation from how things are now to how they should be. At this time, business leaders need to prepare the messages that define the organization’s written principles and values. In doing so, leaders will begin to set the stage for behavioral and performance expectations. These core messages must identify the following:

  • The nature of the transformational change itself – Why is my company changing the way it’s always done business, and why is the change necessary?
  • The process of changing from the current state to the future state – The analytical and technical thinkers of our business need to understand how we plan to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ so they can connect the dots in their minds’ perception of business as they know it today.
  • What role will I play in the change process? – Many members of your organization are innovative and eager to contribute their insights and suggestions for improvement. During the communication phase of our project, we want to engage the “early adopters” to change. These individuals are the free thinkers, the movers and shakers, and typically the resources we know we can routinely call upon to get things done.
  • Where is the resistance to change? – Our initial communications must provide a mechanism to uncover potential paths of resistance to change. Unlike the practice of passing on information, good communication is two-way communication. As we make others aware of our strategy and need for change we must also elicit feedback to better understand how our message was received. People express resistance differently and it is our goal during this phase of the deployment to uncover the covert or passive resistance paths.
  • Displaying your commitment to change – Leaders must communicate their commitment to the change. Many times employees are wavering between adapting to the changes and actively resisting them, so it’s our intent through communication to help them understand that this is not a “flavor of the month.” It’s not going away, as with past failed initiatives, and we, as business leaders, are committed to doing whatever it takes to be successful in growing our business. When leadership commitment is challenged, project teams become stagnant, and with good reason – they feel as if their efforts and their time are poorly valued.
  • How will the change affect me? – This is the age old question, and one of the most important messages required to gain the desire within your organization to do something different. The changes associated with the improvement process will affect people differently, whether it is a change to day-to-day practices, or a complete change of roles and responsibilities. At all levels of the organization, the employee’s direct supervisor has the most influence over what he will hear and respond to.

Integrated messages are crucial when communicating to employees about changes. Align messages with company leadership and peers in other departments so all employees are receiving consistent messages. One way that people will discredit the improvement process or challenge leadership commitment is when they receive mixed messages.

Planning Communication Tactics

Start by identifying the topics of your communication, as we’ve already discussed, then identify the target audience for each communication topic. This can be done by examining the groups of people impacted by the foreseen changes to the business. Next, identify the preferred medium for each topic, keeping in mind that the preferred method of communication is face-to-face. Try to identify at least three different media per topic to ensure reaching a higher percentage of the workforce. Next, evaluate each medium based on reach, frequency, credibility and feedback opportunity to enable your leadership team to determine communication effectiveness as prescribed.

Now we are ready to finalize the communication plan. Schedule the communication topics in accordance with your improvement process deployment plan. Identify the frequency of communication required for each message using the predetermined medium. Finally, identify who will deliver each topic or message based on the media characteristics, and execute the plan.

Communication is one aspect of the improvement process that you can’t have too much of.  However, an ineffective communication has the ability to derail any improvement process. Be diligent in planning your communication. If necessary, engage a communications expert to help craft your messages. Let’s prevent having another “I talk, you listen” session and move toward “we talk, we listen.”

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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