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Five tips for writing change communications

When employees are going through change, their emotional and information needs can change too. Here are five tips that have helped me as an internal communicator over the years – from understanding your audience to telling the company’s story, while keeping things clear, honest and authentic.

if_number-one_1288813Hello Bob

  • If you’re not yet acquainted with Bob, now’s the time to get to know him. Bob’s the “typical employee” you discover from researching the demographics of your audience.
  • To get great demographic research, you’ll need a good relationship with your HR team, and time and resource to dedicate to it. It’s not a five-minute job, but you’ll get great return on your investment.
  • Take time to find out everything there is to know about Bob. After all, he’s hanging on your every word. Learn where he’s come from, what he’s been through, and what he thinks of the company and its communications. You won’t get him on side if you forget about the change he’s already been through, what his biggest gripes with the company are, and how he likes to be communicated with.

if_number-two_1288820Honesty rocks.

  • But in the spirit of honesty, let’s be honest… sometimes you can’t be.
  • Occasionally there’s something huge bubbling away that’s too commercially sensitive to say, especially in a written communication that could leak to the media or your competition.
  • When you can’t be as honest as you’d like, then be open. Tell people something’s brewing, and give them a timeline for when you can say more.
  • If your hands are really tied and you can’t even be open, then just don’t lie. Never say everything’s ok if it might not be. It’ll come back to bite you.

if_number-three_1288812Once upon a time…

  • Without understanding the company’s strategy and purpose, and the narrative of where it’s been and where it’s going, explaining the rationale for change is going to be an uphill struggle.
  • The marketing ‘rule of seven’ claims that people need to engage with your message at least seven times before they’ll take action. So once you’ve got the story, keep telling it.
  • You don’t need to replay it chapter and verse every time. Key messages can be woven regularly through communications, and you can keep linking back to handy documents that support the story. That can be things like slides from employee briefings, copies of announcements, FAQs, the company strategy documents, financial results and annual reports etc.

if_number-four_1288819Keep clear.

  • During change it’s vital that employees understand all the information they’re given – even the most complex. Don’t bamboozle them with jargon, wordy sentences, and corporate spiel. Keep it simple.
  • The Flesch Kincaid reading ease test determines how simple text is to understand. It looks at factors like the number of words in a sentence and the number of syllables per word. It’s tested on a 100-point scale. The higher the score, the easier it is to understand. For most communications you’d probably want the score to be between 60 and 70. You can check a communication’s Flesch Kincaid score in Word. Find out how to do it here. As an example, this blog scored 66.8.
  • Steer clear of ‘death by PowerPoint’. If you want people to really take the message in during a briefing, apply the 10/20/30 rule. That’s no more than 10 slides, no longer than 20 minutes, and a font no smaller than 30 points.
  • With a lot of stakeholders involved, it can be tricky to keep control of your clear, concise copy during an approval loop. Sometimes it can come back looking rather more complex than it did when it left. It can be a tough one for a communicator to manage.

if_number-five_1288821Picking your person.

  • Using an authentic and trustworthy spokesperson to front your communications and events can make or break how people react to change.
  • People want to hear from those they trust and like.
  • So don’t put your poor CIO up on the stage to deliver a redundancy message if he’s public enemy number one, and has the presenting skills of a jellyfish. It’ll end horribly, and it’s hard to come back from that.

 

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