Introduction to communication in change processes
How important is communication in change processes and how mediocre it tends to be.
I have lived in first person different change processes with important impact, and communication and leadership (or rather the absence of it as Simon Sinek tells us in this talk) would be the failed subjects and with a very bad mark.
And I think the key to it all is that most of those in leadership positions confuse inform or listening to themselves with communicating. Communication is a two-way process that is intrinsically associated with the intention to make ourself understood and understood.
Humans come to this world with a lot of skills that we just have to use to be good communicators, and it is not about speaking well in public, or making fantastic presentations or being the funniest or most entertaining, which of course is wonderful. They are human abilities such as honesty, authenticity, humility, etc. that allow us to communicate from a very different position, and that is what I’m going to talk about in this article, and how this is fundamental in change processes.
What is communication and why we communicate?
The psychologist Pilar De la Torre, an expert in non-violent communication, tells us that we communicate in order to relate, relationships being a core element of our happiness or unhappiness, in any area of our life, personal or professional. And she invites us to reflect on those moments in which we have been happiest or unhappy, realizing that in all of them, there is always an element of relationship. Therefore, communication is something fundamental in our life in general
Here you also have a video of Mario Alonso Puig that I think summarizes the essence of communication very well.
You will also find a lot of references where the different elements of communication are explained, sender, receiver, channel, message, context, noise, etc. As well as communication skills, assertiveness, eye contact, etc.
But beyond dividing the communication into different elements, which I am not saying is not interesting and important. I like to see it from the point of view of the purpose of communication. And it is that communicating, not informing or talking, involves connecting with the other, it is a process, as Pilar de la Torre says, of responsibility and authenticity. The essence of communication is wanting to transmit a message to the other generating an impact and being able to properly manage that impact, without the other person feeling attacked, damaged or invaded, but on the contrary, feeling important and cared for.
And what we need to connect with the other is:
- Authenticity: The messages to be communicated sometimes have positive impacts but sometimes not, especially in many change processes. Transmit the essence of the message by being yourself, do not want to play the character that you are not. Use your brain and your heart!
- Humility: Do not communicate to understand the message yourself, your audience has to understand it and always thinks that you may be wrong.
- Empathy: Before transmitting the message, think about the possible impact that the message can have on the audience, if you put yourself in their shoes, you will surely come up with a better way to transmit the message and above all, to sustain what it will happen after delivering the message.
- Honesty: There are times when you will not have answers to all the doubts that arise, so be honest and do not respond to anything, ask what you need and give an answer when you have it, but you have to answer.
- Generates a safe environment: Communication is not possible if it does not take place in a safe environment where both the sender and receiver/s of the message can express themselves without fear of being reprimanded, punished or treated in a derogatory or ironic way, because that closes all possibility to communication.
- Listen level 2 and level 3: There are three levels of listening according to the coactive coaching school, which are:
Level 1: I hear but I do not listen, I am in an internal conversation with myself and what interests me is drop a message.
Level 2: Where I am focused on what the other person says and hear and listen to everything the other person says.
Level 3: Includes not only what is said but also what is not said, what is in the environment, allowing us to use our intuition, understanding what is not told, the impact of the context beyond the words, etc.
To really communicate, which is a two-way action, it is also very important to practice listening level 2 and 3, because otherwise, we are not communicating, we are informing.
And obviously the rest of the elements of communication and other skills are important, but without these, I find it difficult for communication to be successful and reliable.
What role does communication play in change processes?
Communication is a fantastic tool for cohesion, alignment, confidence building, creating a sense of belonging, convincing, moving and inspiring. It is the vehicle that allows consolidating new approaches in the organizational culture and a key element for the success of the implementation of changes.
Over the years, I have seen different approaches to communication strategies that have not been very useful. And I am not saying that you do not have to have a communication strategy, what I try to say is that you have to pay less attention to the externals and more to the content, that communication must be continuous and adapt to what is happening beyond to have a strategy and a closed plan. In other words, a more agile approach that accompanies and adapts to change.
There are organizations whose communication plan in complex change processes has consisted of holding a meeting a month with employees, making powerpoints, creating a portal with documentation, sending a guide to employees, launching no valuable initiatives that nobody is very clear about what they contribute , and in some cases, establish cascade meetings that managers do with their teams, the managers being the first who do not believe in the change that is taking place. And to be clear, this is not communicating.
Other organizations adopt more complex strategies and take into account:
• Stakeholders: Analyzing the groups of people impacted by the change, identifying influencers, opponents, followers or agents of change and based on that, they design the actions for each group.
• Impact: Assessing how change affects people, processes, tools, and organization.
• Communication: Creating the communication strategy and actions necessary to address the different stakeholders, mitigating risks and identifying opportunities.
• Training: Identifying the knowledge, skills and aptitudes necessary for each stakeholder group and creating the most appropriate training / coaching / mentoring plan based on the needs.
This is better, but not enough.
What comes to your mind when you read the above? The traditional corporates comes to mind when they have decided to do something of great impact and focus on all the «hard» elements of the project plan, and very little on the «soft» elements, which have a tremendous impact, and wich are the ones that are going to decline the balance towards success, failure, or «I stay as I was» with another name on the signature foot after having turned the house upside down, generated stress and lost talent.
I am referring to the importance of the message that is communicated, who communicates it, from what position it is communicated, what trust he/she generates and how the impact of the message is managed.
Let’s think for a moment about our poor employees in their comfort zone so calm, and suddenly you tell them that we have started the digital transformation, but do not worry that everything is controlled and that the communication plan has been designed…. It is likely that they will automatically panic, increasing their stress and reducing their productivity as we saw in the previous article.
The great key to the success of communication in change processes, or at least that is how I have felt it, occurs when the person who communicates tells you the message in words that you understand, honestly, authentically, generating a safe and secure space and makes you visualize where you are going. He/she tells you how that is going to impact you individually and accompanies you throughout the change process with continuous updates, being there, listening from humility, solving doubts, and facilitating everything you need from a sincere interest to take care of your needs. And from here, everything else can be built.
Why are we going to design gigantic training plans, for example, without first understanding what people really need by talking to them, or if we change course halfway.
I know that most people, myself included, need to have situations under control, have everything planned, organized, estimated, prioritized … but fortunately or unfortunately change can not managed, can be facilitated. This is the essence of any successful change model, but hey, today we are not focusing on this.
We can create a change roadmap, but never a closed plan, and we need to listen to people and accompany them, therefore, communication must be part of the facilitation, it will be a continuous action during the execution of the roadmap, but it can never be defined as a project plan, and above all, it will have to adapt to the people and teams to whom the communication will be directed, as well as to the evolution of the change process itself.