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Effective change management: tips from our internal comms specialists

15 April 2016

When an organisation goes through change, such as a staff restructure or launching a new corporate strategy, internal comms teams play a vital role in helping to embed change and act as the ‘storyteller’ throughout the process.  

A recent CharityComms Internal Comms Group meeting considered how to tackle the challenges and opportunities change management programmes present. The group was joined by speakers from British Red Cross and Parkinson’s UK to consider different approaches to supporting change in charities. Here are four tips shared during the sessions to help develop effective change management programmes. 

1. Planning

Clarify the role of internal comms from the start of any change programme to avoid ‘being dumped on’. For example, are you the advisor, consultant or business partner? It’s also a good idea to agree on a comms schedule and get sign-off on budget from senior management before embarking on the programme. To ensure all teams are on board, clarify and agree the role managers should play when communicating with their team beforehand. 

2. Implementation and inclusion

It’s important to engage managers early and set expectations that they will communicate with their teams. Sell it to them – consider setting up meetings so that managers hear about change directly from senior managers. Encourage them to share their plans with you (but don’t write the project plan for them) and help them with tools and training.  

Staff may also want to input into decisions, but decide early on how much consultation you can offer. Avoid false consultation – when the decision has been made but it appears there is consultation on it. Instead, be clear about what has been decided and what’s up for grabs. 

However you decide to consult, remember to communicate to wider staff, often and in varying formats. However, it’s worth limiting the number of people involved in comms, to speed up the process. You could also try balancing formal with informal and celebrating milestones.

3. Tone and style

When it comes to tone, get the first key message right; it sets the tone for the whole programme of change. Emphasise what’s not going to change as much as what will change – taking a low key approach can sometimes work better. Don’t forget to allow senior managers their own style, otherwise comms sound inauthentic. 

4. Channels

A change management programme is often a great opportunity to trial new channels. Examples include social channels, a new intranet, different ways of running all staff meetings (which don’t just have to be about business as usual), well-being weeks, notice boards, and video. Make sure you balance this with softer comms such as staff interviews, and vox pops. When the time is right, invest in face-to-face communications. 

Effective internal comms can have an enormous effect on support for a change management programme. Being realistic, empowering managers and planning your comms could make a real difference to implementing the change you want to see.

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Clare Harris

head of business development, Agenda Consulting

Clare Harris has been Agenda Consulting's head of business since 2013. She worked in a number of senior management positions in academic publishing for more than 10 years and also as a consultant advising organisations on how to improve their service offerings through their people. Her work includes employee research and benchmarking.