This post was written in collaboration with Kates Kesler Organization Consulting, Part of Accenture
When the time comes to communicate organizational change, leaders tend to default to Human Resources or Corporate Communications to develop the message. While these teams are often highly skilled at communicating, their lens tends to be mitigating risk, rather than creating excitement. These go-to units aren’t necessarily the wrong choice, but whoever’s got the job has to think with the right mindset. We suggest that organization change communicators think like marketers. Beyond the facts, organization change communication is an opportunity to influence and engage. We’re not talking about manipulation or empty razzle dazzle. This is about honestly and effectively answering the question “what’s in this for me and what do you expect from me?” Here are three ways to bring the best of marketing into your organization change work.
1. Connect directly
Thinking like a marketer means identifying the different audiences you need to reach and the right modality to reach them. Consider how social media marketers use the “Ask me anything” feature on Instagram. With this feature, an influencer connects directly with followers and asks, “What topics do you want me to tell you about?” and “How do you want to receive these topics – stories, live, post, blog?” Imagine the engagement possibilities of an organization that regularly checks in with employees (their “followers”) and asks these kinds of questions.
2. Communication is in the conversation
Effective communication should build feelings of trust, clarity, and excitement. Just as marketing moves customers to buy, use, or share a product or service, organization change communication should move employees to action. Bill Pasmore, at Columbia Teachers College, notes, “… meaning-making happens after the CEO’s speech, as people ask questions, raise concerns, discuss plans with one another, and begin to take action.” Organization communication staff should coach mid and senior managers in how to deliver complex company updates and answer questions and concerns with empathy. Training can be designed much like marketers conduct focus groups to help the leaders role play what the conversation should look like and anticipate how people may respond. 3. Celebrate progress and wins Talented marketers know that testimonials and loyalty programs are key to consumer engagement because they reinforce that the buyer is taking the right action and making the right decision. Similarly, highlighting organizational progress is one of the most powerful ways to remind people of the “why” behind change and celebrate the progress they are making. Tools such as Slack and Bonusly can effectively make widespread and instantaneous celebrations of success easy. But, leaders shouldn’t miss any opportunity for real time recognition. For example, we recently encouraged a leader to begin a town hall by having employees and teams that were leading change by example receive applause from the entire organization. The simple gesture not only rewarded the teams, but reinforced for the rest of the organization what the goal was. Consistently sharing “wins” communicates what good looks like and builds momentum. This is especially critical in times of uncertainty. We see many of our clients embrace robust organization design and development methods, but then underestimate the importance of a high impact communication strategy. Savvy marketers know that to execute great work, you need a robust project plan. The plan should include the size and scope of communication efforts and make sure enough time and importance is given to the job. The plan should include the communication who, what, when, where, and how throughout discovery, implementation and post-launch phases. Most importantly, it should include sincere and creative ways to connect leaders and employees directly. Thinking a bit like a marketer goes a long way.
Kaylin Aarts, Leadership Coach & OD Consultant Amy Kates, Managing Partner, Kates Kesler