As a consultant at Methods, I have worked across many different public sector organisations, from the smallest local authorities to the largest central government departments. In my experience, they all share a similar difficulty when managing change, namely communications not having the desired effect.

Successful organisational change projects rely on the positive participation of the vast majority of those whom the change will affect. For some people, particularly those who have been working in the same job in the same place for a long time, giving up what you know and changing to a new way of thinking and operating is a hugely unattractive task. Managing those types of people en masse is daunting for a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced would-be change makers, as is the norm in organisations that have the need, but not the budget, to employ experienced staff dedicated to that task.

Communicating change to people is made more difficult by the expansion of remote and flexible working. Sending out mass communication about a change project proclaiming a new dawn is commonplace. In reality, the organisation is still sleeping soundly, and the sun has only risen in the basement where the team happen to be sitting. Mass communication is often ineffective and simply ignored.

The next issue is gauging opinion and the idea of letting people ‘have a voice’. Let’s face it, most people are reluctant to offer an opinion publicly. Those that do are often bored or looking for a fight. It’s also pretty widely recognised that the way people express things on Twitter is wildly different to the way they would communicate it face to face. Why should this phenomenon be any different in an organisation trying to gauge staff opinion via online surveys, IM channels or group emails?

 

I think the best way to get people to accept and get involved in change, is to talk to them, face to face, on a regular basis, until the change becomes reality. Unfortunately, individual counselling sessions for every member of staff about what is about to happen to them is not an option for most organisations. Instead here are four things that I have found help make communications around change more effective:

 

1. Start from the top down. 

Managers who are trusted by their staff will be able to communicate your message for you and can become advocates. Find a manageable number of senior people and talk to them about what’s coming.

 

2. Quality, not quantity.

People become numb to messages if they happen too frequently or repetitively. Those twice-daily Linkedin emails? I don’t even see them anymore.

 

3. Talk to the biggest resisters.

It will be painful at first but getting the most difficult people on board will save you a world of pain. Negative feeling spreads quickly in large groups and is the easiest, laziest stance to take.

 

4. Present your message in new ways.

People are bored of newsletters and emails. Find a charismatic champion for the project and ask them to make an update video to send to their colleagues.