Managing the Message When Communicating Change
In a perfect world, all change would be planned. You would never lose your biggest customer; your building wouldn’t be sold out from under you; and the best employees would never leave. And if any of these things did happen, heaven forbid, you would have plenty of time to manage the change. You could prepare spreadsheets and PowerPoints; and incur no unanticipated expenses while implementing the change.
Even when there’s time to plan for change, from the stories I hear in our affinity groups, small business owners fail to include a message strategy when preparing for change, or simply don't prepare a communications plan at all.
Here are a few simple steps to follow when confronted with change in your business.
1. Decide what results you really desire. What’s the end result of the change? Will you continue on, confident you’ll find another big customer? Will you find a new building and move and even expand your business? Will you find a creative marketing person equal to or better than the one you lost?
2. Find out what each audience fears most. Everyone wants to know how the change will affect them – employees, vendors, customers. Don’t be surprised by the fallout -- ask people what they’re worried about most.
3. Develop a message that tells your story. If you can’t come up with it – GET HELP. There are plenty of strategic communicators for hire. Make the message memorable, but not gimmicky. Make it short, use the Twitter rule – 140 characters or less. Make sure that it’s what you want your employees repeating to customers, and your customers repeating in the community.
"We lost a big account, it hurt us, but we’re confident we will recover and find our next strategic alliance."
4. Tell the truth. Be transparent in your communications. If there are sensitive areas that you don’t want repeated, leave those out of the message. Don’t speculate. Don’t fall into the trap of answering “what if” questions. Don’t say “I can’t talk about that.” Instead say “I don’t have that information.” When you have new information about changes, go back to step one!
5. Talk and write. If you’re wondering whether you should speak to people or write notes, do both. Either way, you’ve reinforced the message. Remember to always stick to the facts when speaking or writing the message.
6. When bad things happen, it’s ok to be sad. If your biggest customer jumped to a competitor, it’s not a good time to ask your staff to support a charity. If you’re delegating duties to move offices, don’t ask the same people to take on extra projects too. When valuable team members leave, don’t find excuses to put them down, or lament that you’ll never find a replacement. “We’ll miss John, but it’s always exciting to hire a creative thinker.”
7. When in doubt, go back to your mission, vision and values. Show how the change fits in with your strategic plan. “We wanted to diversify our customer base; we’re now doing it on a quicker timeframe.”