Transformation programs take companies through moments of pivotally important change, whether in response to external pressures or in order to capitalise on opportunities created by market dynamics, technology or innovation.
While the focus during preparation for change efforts typically centres on planning implementation and defining deliverables, the right communication strategy throughout the process also plays a central role in underpinning overall success.
In particular, a top-down approach to communication can help remove common barriers to transformation execution while ensuring that the impact of change is both positive and long-lasting.
An ineffective approach to communication can have wide-ranging repercussions, resulting in change programs which miss critical budget or deadline objectives, or which fail in the long-term to secure ongoing adoption and true transformation of the business or business unit underdoing change.
There are a number of primary reasons that an organisation’s communication strategy during a period of transformation can fail.
Communication focuses on delivering instructional information without presenting the wider business case for change to those affected.
Key people within the organisation do not understand why they are being asked to change, and approach their individual roles in the change process without the broader perspective necessary to drive optimal engagement and buy-in.
Messaging and messaging channels are not targeted to specific members within the organisation, failing to articulate how they will be impacted within the parameters of their roles or divisions.
Employees with differing functions, affected to varying degrees by the initiative or involved to greater or lesser degrees in actively implementing change receive one-size-fits-all communication lacking contextual nuance.
Presentation of the change vision and case for change concentrate on the benefits to the organisation (and its customers or shareholders), failing to explore and highlight possible benefits to teams and individuals.
Messaging isolates business success from employee success, missing a valuable opportunity to connect the two in a unified narrative which illustrates how change may positively impact wellbeing, productivity and satisfaction at an individual level.
Absence of a structured communication strategy leads to sporadic and unpredictable communication, often containing corrected or redundant information, and lacking the opportunity for feedback and dialogue.
Inconsistent, one-way communication creates uncertainty, mistrust and resistance to the change initiative, impacting costs, time-frames, adoption and implementation standards.
The communication model deployed during moments of significant business change must meet several important criteria.
It must empower the key change leaders within the organisation and position them to carry out their functions effectively with the necessary authority and influence.
It must also be responsive; able to engage decision-makers rapidly and avoid delays in complex implementation processes.
Lastly, it should clearly and continually reinforce senior-level sponsorship for the change initiative and avoid becoming purely instructional in nature.
A strategy which adheres to a clearly-defined cascading message structure across an established management hierarchy offers several key advantages in delivering any business-critical transformation programs, helping to create an accurate, timely and effective flow of information.
Most significantly, a top-down approach has the following crucial impacts:
The vision for change must be delivered as a high-importance, strategic corporate objective with sponsorship at the most senior level in order to drive broad engagement, support and long-term adoption across the organisation.
Without a clear communication strategy originating at the highest tier of leadership, change programs can lose the visible endorsement of their most influential sponsors.
The subsequent concentration of communication at a team or individual level leaves essential business transformation projects open to mis-interpretation by employees as private initiatives or independent projects – potentially leading to resistance, challenges to authority and delays.
A communication structure which continually demonstrates support and engagement from senior leadership helps reduce friction and reinforce the mission-critical nature of the change program.
Communication during change periods should be frequent and bidirectional, involving employees in ‘co-creating’ change in order to ensure a smooth execution of the change program and lasting adoption across the organisation.Central to this is an agile communication model which reaches to the top level of leadership, ensuring that necessary escalations, program adjustments and avoidance of bottlenecks can be rapidly communicated and authorised once the change initiative is underway.
Communication strategies which are separate from the defined corporate hierarchy or have no clearly-defined authority structure can result in slower decision-making or inconsistent messaging, both of which can negatively impact execution.
Many transformation programs involve key teams or individuals working both laterally and vertically across organisational hierarchies in order to deliver change objectives.
In order to be granted the necessary access, time and resources required to adhere to program schedules and maintain momentum during complex projects, it is critical that these change leaders have the endorsement and authorisation from senior leadership to work with and instruct necessary teams and individuals to meet objectives – which may include delegating tasks to or directly instructing hierarchical superiors.
A top-down communication model provides a clear structure for this support, with leaders able to clarify collaboration requirements from all levels of the organisation chart and pre-empt any likely obstacles.
In addition to championing the initial business case for change and defining the vision to be communicated across the organisation, senior leadership also has an essential role to play in ensuring that execution of transformation programs aligns with planned schedules and is delivered on time.
This requires not merely involvement in the initial presentation of the change story, but an ongoing role in the communication process through to completion.
Even once the rationale for change is successfully communicated, subsequent implementation may yet create frustration, uncertainty or be eclipsed by new emerging challenges perceived as priorities.
Effective delivery of change requires ongoing, supportive and visible input from senior leadership figures and change sponsors, actively present in the communication process and reiterating the successful execution of the change program as a key strategic priority.
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