“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” – George Bernard Shaw.

Remember the teams of communications specialists that used to be in organisations? They would manage anything from internal communications, stakeholder communications, to shareholder communications to specialised projects.

Many of these specialists got caught up in the redundancy merry-go-round as the fight for resources across digital, projects, marketing, sales, data, research, culture and change tried to fight for a stretched resource budget whereby many business units operated as silos instead of an organisation (but that is another story for another time).

The communications specialists was a vital role in an organisation that had leaders who were technically competent but lacked some of the softer skills such as listening skills, empathy and consistency in their messaging.

It was a skill that was undervalued but it now being resurrected as a critical focus is placed on the failure rate of transformation projects, the lack of psychological safety with our workforce, the lack of collaboration and the lack of transparency and the negative public perception of our government and business leaders.

We currently have a national level of trust which is one of the lowest globally for organisations and government institutions (2019 Edelman Trust Barometer). We have one of the lowest levels of staff productivity and engagement globally (Gallup 2019). And we have a failure rate of change management/transformation projects of 60-70% (Gartner Research, Gallup, and Harvard Business Review).

So where can we add focus to start learning from these failures and start generating some success? The reasons for failure across organisational transformation include:

1. Poor leadership

2. Lack of resources and training

3. Ineffective Communication

A focus on communications strategies during transformation has led to research by the Ken Blanchard Company, focusing on the stages of uncertainty that people go through during change and the types of communication we need to address to facilitate successful transformation.

Think about this in terms of COVID pre and post strategies, for mergers and acquisitions, for rebranding or crisis communication.

Communication requirements

1. Information Concerns  – People want specifics about the change process. They want honest and direct answers. And they don’t want to be sold on the proposed change. They need to understand what is being proposed before they can know whether the change is bad or good.

2. Personal Concerns  – Personal Concerns, are often the most ignored stage and the primary reason so many change initiatives fail. At this stage, people want to know how the change initiative will benefit them or what they will lose

3. Implementation Concerns  – Implementation Concerns, include system alignment, best practices, and the daily mechanics of making the change happen. In this stage, people ask themselves, “What do I do first? Second? Third? How do I manage all the details?”

4.Impact Concerns  – At this stage, people are interested in learning whether the change is paying off. If leaders have done a good job of addressing the first three stages of concern, this is the point in the process where people will sell themselves on the benefits of the change.

5. Refinement Concerns Refinement  – Concerns focus on making continual improvements. At this stage, the change is well on its way and employees are focused on innovation. Employees may be wondering whether alternative approaches might work better. They may want to play a role in modifying the approach to the change process to leverage lessons of the past. The leader’s role is to encourage this refinement, support further innovation, and invite others to challenge the status quo.

At each of these stages understand the cognitive differences of those you might be talking to, so that you can address the messages and create a safe, unthreatening environment.

Cognitive Differences

6peas refers to these cognitive differences within an ICARES framework – Importance/Significance; Certainty; Autonomy/Empowerment; Relationship/Belonging ; Equality/Fairness; Shared values.

For example those who feel safer with certainty will be wanting specifics in relation to who, what, when, where, how and why at each of these phases. Procedures for escalation, feedback – they will feel threatened by uncertainty so focusing on the things you do know and communicating those things consistently is critical.

Those who are driven by a sense of purpose and significance will be looking for ways that the changes will impact on their roles, responsibilities, remuneration, direct reports, KPIs. They may be more inspired by the purpose and how it relates to their role and those around. They will be threatened if changes impact on their social standing or status within the organisation.

Using narratives to create stories and a sense of belonging for each of the participants in the organisation is also critical to keep teams motivated and providing feedback.

Importantly, it is hard to gain any success if an environment of psychological safety and trust is not present in the organisation.

So work on establishing trust and making each leader accountable for creating a speak up culture and rewarding feedback from throughout the organisation.