7 Signs Your Communication Approach Will Fail

Most leaders and organizations struggle during times of change.

Businessman wearing paper bag in head with megaphoneI’ve witnessed how Steering Committee Powerpoint slides, code drop deadlines and meticulous budget tracking can suck up an exorbitant amount of time and resources.

Identifying the individuals impacted by the change (“stakeholders”), what they need to know and do, and how to funnel the right information to them is usually pushed to the side.

It takes time to get the communication piece of a change right. It’s messy. But when you skimp on these activities, your change is guaranteed to meet resistance and fail.

7 Reasons Your Communication Plan Is Doomed

1. You treat all your stakeholders the same. Not everyone impacted by the change has the same interest and influence. Segment your stakeholders and manage them accordingly. 

2. You involve people too late. You don’t need to wait until you have everything figured out. What you can do, almost immediately, is talk about and demonstrate that you understand concerns and have people’s interests in mind. Communicate even when you don’t have all the answers. That builds trust.

3. You think silence = commitment. If you don’t seek feedback and reach out to people who challenge and poke holes in your plan, you’ll be blindsided by festering resistance. You want to hear the questions and concerns early and often. 

4. You are overly reliant on hierarchies. Don’t expect communication to neatly funnel down from leaders to managers to employees. Messages are sure to get blocked somewhere along the path. Find multiple channels to get your information disseminated.

5. Too much what, not enough why. Emphasize why things need to be different, the purpose, the greater outcome. It’s not enough to explain what’s happening and when.

6. Your communications are a one-way street. If you’re sharing information, formal presentations are ok. But if you want interest and engagement, you’ll need to find ways to talk with key influencers one-on-one, or in small group discussions.

7. Your leaders lack empathy. In times of change, leaders need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the people impacted by the change, and look at the change from a different point of view. What seems trivial to an executive (a new data entry screen, a new reporting relationship), could be extremely important to someone on the receiving end of the change. 

It takes work on the front end to get the communication right. But if you want your change to stick and result in more than passive compliance, you have no choice.

Marta Steele is a partner @People_Results. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele.