Communication: Create a Culture for Change

Communication. We all communicate and we all know it’s important. So why should you read about it? Going back to a previous post, we introduced you to a survey conducted by MITSloan Management Review and Deloitte.

The survey singled out culture as the most important determinant of whether a company is successful at transitioning fully into the digital age. Culture is so important, in fact, that without the right one, a company runs the risk of becoming marginalized.

Our own experience in helping companies through the change management process has taught us that there are 5 specific steps management can take to create a culture that embraces the change. Of those, the one at the top of the list is communication. Change is difficult, but change without the right communication strategy is destined for failure.

The Importance of Communication

I’ve never met a company that doesn’t believe in the importance of communication, and I’ve never seen an employee survey that doesn’t point to communication as an area that needs improvement.

Lack of communication is always bad, but where management runs into serious trouble is when they fail to communicate the important things going on within a company. For example, when the executive team is undertaking an ERP replacement project and is keeping the evaluation process under wraps, they are sowing the seeds for rumors, hearsay, and general discontent among the rank and file. It is human nature to fill in gaps where information is not supplied. This can easily lead to unintentional misinformation becoming ‘truth’.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting its boots on.” In the age of instant communication, the ramifications of disinformation are even more severe.

Improving communication is not as simple as pushing out a bunch of company-wide emails. Doing it right requires a comprehensive, top-down communication strategy to be put in place for discussing the scope of the project, why change is necessary, and how the changes will affect the company and employees.

When putting together your communication strategy, you need to include a variety of messages and messengers. (Also, keep in mind that your strategy can be used as a framework for future communication plans.) The most general messages can be delivered by senior management. These are the communications that are appropriate for the entire company to consume. Delivering broad messages from the highest level will demonstrate that senior executives are open about communicating details about the project and will illustrate their commitment to it.  But communication cannot be left up to senior management alone.

An ERP project will affect each department in different ways and to different degrees. The specifics should be addressed at the department level by the director or manager who is closest to those who will be impacted by the changes. Not only will that person know the best way to communicate – having the best understanding of the people in the department – they are in the best position to answer any questions and address any concerns in a group or individual setting.

Communication at all levels – from the broadest to the most specific – must provide clarity. Just as a lack of communication will stunt a project, muddled communication will do the same because of multiple interpretations of the project at hand. The more clearly you communicate, the more you will mitigate confusion and, therefore, questions.

In addition to clarity, every communication must be consistent. When managers are dispatched to communicate with their direct reports, each messenger will deliver the message in a slightly different way. There’s nothing nefarious going on, just human nature. With that said, if two employees ask each of their managers the same question, you want to be sure the answers given are, for the most part, the same.  If the answers are very different, there is a high risk of introducing confusion into the mix.

Frequent communication delivered by the appropriate people will keep everyone up-to-date on the major projects happening within your company and will keep the door open to questions and feedback.

Establishing an environment where communication is as open as possible and feedback is encouraged will lead to a culture of trust, where employees understand that decisions are being made with their best interests in mind. Such a culture leads to buy-in and, ultimately, successful change.