More messages, please!

smiling man ID-100194422 stockimagesThere’s a look people can get — I can close my eyes and see it.  I’m sitting around the table of a team charged with a major change initiative, like a multi-year supply-chain process overhaul.  Toward the end of the long meeting, when everyone is exhausted with the enormity of the task and uncertain of its success, the team lead turns to me with a weary-smile / “save me” face and says, “Now . . . communications!”

If Google had an online translator for business speak, the return would read: “We’re going to have to massively change people’s minds about this project they’re sure to hate, and the only way that will happen is if you deluge them with messages, please.”

I’m jumping you to the middle of this thought-leadership piece from Boston Consulting Group, Creating People Advantage 2013, with this great quote (emphasis mine):

Although many leaders think that shaping the culture is mainly a communication effort, success requires actively changing the environment in order to embed cultural shifts and make behaviors stick. In many cases, this is a big investment and can mean transforming processes that have a strong impact on the company’s culture, such as budgetary oversight and control, strategic planning, capital expenditure controls, and performance and career management. And generally, it is the leaders themselves who must change their behavior.

Few weary teams expect to hear it, but all of those transformed processes ARE the communications that people will receive, much more so than emails and briefings and updates and contests.   Often my role has been to hold the message-cascade plan hostage until the team has scanned all of those other channels before going further.  In one case, we reinvigorated a moribund reward and recognition program and knocked down some real incentives for people to participate in change.  Another time, I proposed delay of a message to union employees until the “enhanced” benefit it announced could be revisited and actually enhanced.

The truth is that a bunch more messages about anything are absolutely the last thing that beleaguered and over-messaged employees want next.  What most projects need is a communicator with the ability and savvy to put communications last and to help think through all of the design elements of change first.

What would help your project teams take a new approach to communications?

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