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Inspiring Change: A Communication Guide for Leaders

In a rapidly changing world, change is vital to remaining relevant. So, effective change communication is not just a skill; it needs a strategy. Your ability to communicate vision, process and support will greatly impact how your team responds, and, ultimately, how successful the change initiative becomes. 

At its core, changing direction, processes or systems requires collective behavior change. Systems don’t change without people making changes. So, while mass communication tactics are necessary, they are rarely sufficient to motivate human behavior change. 

When communicating change, we think about four As: Audience, Awareness, Attitude and Action. Who is the audience and what do you want them to do with the information you provide? In selecting communication messages and strategies, think about SMART objectives that address each of the four As.

Four essential  change communication questions

1. Who needs to know?

    • Whose help do you need for success? (You’ll need executive and staff champions and early adopters.)
    • Who will be impacted by the change? (Employees whose work is impacted, customers whose lives or routines will be disrupted?)
    • Who could potentially derail efforts?

2. What do they need to know? 

    • Frame the rationale for the change around something people care about.
    • Draft clear, simple key messages, and a more extensive FAQ.
    • Anticipate questions: process, timeline, supports, opportunities for input.
    • We want people to walk away feeling the change is well-thought-out and passes the common-sense test. Or, if early enough in the process, those impacted by the change will have an opportunity to design it.

Communicate change with a collective, collaborative vision and a goal of winning hearts, minds, time, and effort. The days of command and control, forced change are over. People choose how to show up every day, and how much effort to put forth. They choose to actively engage or sabotage the change effort.

3. What is the best way to communicate?
(Hint: face-to-face is most effective.)

There is no magic answer. Different audiences will need varying amounts of time, information and attention, and channels are audience-specific.

    • In-person meetings, video conferences, email updates, or even town hall sessions can be used to deliver specific information.
    • Plan for multiple opportunities to communicate targeted messages to multiple groups over time.
    • Teach others to carry the message. Building a coalition, engaging change champions, and celebrating early adopters are all impactful strategies.
    • Avoid overwhelming your team with a barrage of information; instead, break it down into manageable updates. Be ready to answer questions as others bring them up. People need processing time; avoid cognitive overload.

Consistency is vital in communicating change. Reiterate key messages at regular intervals to reinforce the vision, goals and rationale. Repetition helps solidify the message.

4. How will we know how well they received the information? 

Communication is not just about speaking; it’s equally important to listen. Encourage your team members to share their concerns, questions, and ideas related to making change successful. Listen for your blindspots.

    • How will you monitor and measure implementation?
    • What milestones will help you monitor progress?
    • If new skills are required, how will you measure learning?
    • Acknowledge feelings and assure audiences that their voices are heard and valued.

Collect feedback and act on the feedback. Then communicate how the feedback impacted implementation. Openness and transparency build trust and let your team know you value their involvement and opinions.

What about those resistant to Change?

Remember the 80/20 rule: spend 80% of your time and resources on early adopters — the 20% of your key audience that needs to be successful before the next group (early majority) will join the change initiative.  

Roger’s diffusion of innovation theory is timeless and reminds us how, over time, an idea gains momentum and diffuses through a social group. You reach a tipping point when your early adopters positively influence your early majority. Too often, leaders focus on trying to change the mindset of the most resistant (laggards) or trying to get buy-in from everyone, both of which are losing strategies. Margaret Mead was right, it takes a small group of thoughtful, committed people to create change.

Spend 80% of your time and resources on early adopters 

Expect that some team members may resist the change, and be prepared to address their concerns. Seek to understand the reasons behind their resistance, offer support, remove barriers, and provide training. Use empathy and patience to navigate through their doubts, and express confidence in the team implementing the change. You provide vision and hope.

Equip your team with the necessary resources and support to navigate the change successfully. Offer training, workshops, and mentoring to help team members develop new skills and competencies required for the change. Additionally, establish a support system to address any difficulties they may encounter along the way.

As a leader, you are the face of the change. Your actions speak louder than words, so embody the values and behaviors that you expect from your team. Demonstrate flexibility and openness to learning, as well as a willingness to adapt. Leading by example will inspire your team to follow and embrace the change.

Throughout the change process, celebrate small victories and milestones achieved. Recognize the efforts of your team members and the progress they’ve made. Positive reinforcement helps build morale and sustains motivation during challenging times.

Storytelling: A Key Strategy for Change Communication

Communication through storytelling can be a powerful tool for inspiring change. Create a story from your vision of the future. What does success look like? Listen and retell success stories of individuals or teams who have already embraced the change and achieved positive outcomes. Personal anecdotes create an emotional connection and demonstrate that change is possible and beneficial. Similarly, to emphasize the importance of change, share stories of organizations that failed to adapt and the consequences they faced.

As a leader, your role in effectively communicating change inspires and shapes the future of your organization. If you need communications support, we’re here for you.


Published on: August 2, 2023