Most employees, regardless of industry or company size, will tell you that the pace of change in their organizations is high. It seems like a new merger or acquisition is announced every day, companies of all sizes are transforming their operations around technology, and leaders are constantly tinkering with their organization design and processes to further improve efficiency and better compete in the marketplace.
While focusing on the finer details of the new technology, the new process, or the new org chart, it’s easy for leaders to overlook important aspects of how these changes will impact their teams. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before rolling out any change inside your organization.
1. Have you identified all of your audiences?
All too often, leaders think about the primary audience impacted by the change and fail to recognize the full set of people who need to be informed and engaged. For example, if you are rolling out a new software platform for the Marketing team, have you considered how functions that work closely with Marketing, like Sales and Customer Success, might be impacted? Do your external partners and agencies also need to be aware? Have your IT and Legal partners been engaged? Do executives from Finance and Sales have new capabilities that you could showcase to them? Once you’ve got a change plan developed, it’s a good idea to share it with leaders across all functions and ask for feedback.
2. Does your message incentivize change?
Inertia is an incredibly powerful force, and people will usually be resistant to change even when it is in their best interest. One way to incentivize change is to create messages that appeal very directly to the individual and make clear “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM). The message should make clear both the benefit of making the change, as well as the cost of not making the change. The more specific you can be about what an employee stands to gain, the better off you’ll be in the battle against inertia.
3. Have you pressure tested your plan with the frontline?
Managers see the world from a very different perspective than the front-line team. Before you roll out a change, it’s a good idea to gather a few folks who will be impacted by the change and get their feedback. Ask them: what haven’t I considered? What could make this change fail? How should we overcome those challenges?
4. When is the best time?
“As soon as the change is ready” is rarely the right answer. For example, is it the end of the quarter when a process change might keep a team from meeting its targets? Are there other organizational changes happening at the same time that might overwhelm my audience? (Alternatively: is a related change coming soon so you can bundle them together?) Are key leaders going to be in the office at the time the news is announced? If you’re rolling out an important new program or transition, it’s a good idea to check calendars and make sure the relevant executives aren’t on vacation in Hawaii that week.
5. Are you using a diversity of communications channels?
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard: “I didn’t see the email.” If you are counting on a single email to announce a change, you need to beef up your plan and figure out how you’re going to get the attention of busy, easily distracted employees who have their own set of priorities. When building a communications plan to roll out a change, consider all of the communications vehicles available to you: companywide meetings, departmental staff meetings, 1:1 check-ins between managers and employees, emails, video, Slack channels, office signage, and so on. In a world in which all communication is going digital, printed collateral left on the chairs of all employees can be a great way to get noticed.
6. Have you made a plan to update legacy communications materials?
When rolling out a change, typically leaders will create a toolkit of materials including announcement emails, FAQ documents, tutorials, etc. While you are busy creating a lot of new material, consider what already exists inside your organization. You’ll probably need to update content in many different places, from your intranet to your onboarding guide for new employees.
7. How will you know whether the change was successful?
So, you’ve announced your change. Awesome. How’s it going? Do you know how employees feel about it? What unanticipated issues arose? Make sure you have feedback mechanisms in place and that you’re quickly made aware of and able to address any hiccups in your plan. Feedback mechanisms could include information that will naturally be generated — if you install a new piece of enterprise-wide software, for instance, you should be able to grab usage information from IT or from the vendor itself — or “change ambassadors” whom you’ve enlisted to keep you informed about on-the-ground sentiment.
Here’s a handy chart you can use to keep track of all these considerations:
Brands are the sum of their interactions with people, including employees. Making sure your company is internally aligned keeps your brand externally consistent, too.