managing change communication is key

Managing Change: Communication Is the Key

Pam Colangelo
Retail Labor Manager

We hear the term change management often. Most people in business would agree it is important, but I have observed that many struggle to know what it means, or how to apply it to their business. It’s critical to not only define the change but also how to communicate that change to all the parties involved. Not taking the time to think through who is impacted and how to effectively communicate with them is a leading cause for failure—or at least lack of complete success—of a new program or rollout of a new process.

Leading change involves more than just acknowledging with a memo distribution that change is on the way, with a few high-level speaking points about something “new and exciting.”

Change management activities should be built into the detailed project plan. At the beginning of any rollout or implementation, the project team should:

  • Conduct a stakeholder analysis to define how and when each role will be impacted
  • Define the communication plan to outline when, how and from whom communication should originate
  • Identify ways to build buy-in and sustain the change

Spending the time at the beginning to define and assign the tasks in the project plan will ensure that communication to the proper parties at the right time is not forgotten. Far too often, people “get too busy” to stop and think about the who, what, when and how people downstream are affected once the project gets started.

Specifically, consider these steps when leading change in your organization:

Stakeholder analysis

Determine by role who is affected. Take the time to think about all end users. Every role in the organization should be evaluated to determine if change will touch them. For example, if a new scheduling solution is being implemented,  the schedule writer is the most obvious stakeholder, but there are several others. All store associates might be affected, based on a new look to the wall schedule or change in the current timeline. The corporate office or operations leadership should understand what changes they will experience and the changes their stores will see to provide support. They also may have changes such as how they view reports, revised timelines, new metrics, and talking points with stores.

Identify how each role will be impacted. Once each role of the organization is identified, it is time to evaluate how they will be impacted by the change. How big of a change will they encounter? Will this change be easily adopted or is this a difficult change? It is important to identify all activities and changes that will affect impacted roles.

Communication plan

Determine how the changes will be communicated. Timeliness is important. There is nothing worse than being told about an event after it has already occurred. Each step of the project plan should be reviewed, with the project owners asking themselves, “who needs to know this is happening?” For example, if a store or department has been identified as a pilot or test store, let them know as early as possible and communicate as much as possible about the project to make them feel like part of the project team. Far too often, they are left in the dark and feel like something is happening TO them instead of feeling included as part of the project team.

Define who will be delivering the communication. This may seem trivial but can make a difference—especially when the message may be perceived as bad news. For example, if at some point it is determined that stores will earn less hours or have an unpleasant task to complete, this should be carefully communicated by a district manager or other operations support—and done before the stores discover this on their own. This way the “why” can be properly discussed with all relevant stakeholders. The appropriate communication vehicle is also extremely important. While some communication can simply be executed via email, some may require video conference, in-person meetings, or formal training. Some highly sensitive communication may even need to take place on an individual level on site or at a store location.

Draft the messages in advance and receive leadership approval. Start putting together drafts of the message that include bullet points of the necessary meeting agendas for different roles. Collaboration between operations and other project team members should take place to decide how to create buy-in at all levels. Where does the team anticipate push-back? What will be the largest hurdles? Where can the project team show off quick wins?

Sustaining the change

Identify change agents. How do you ensure the end users will not only buy-in for the short term, but adopt long-term habits? This needs to be discussed early in project planning. How do you convey the message that this change is something they CAN do, they should WANT to do, and others ARE doing successfully?

Incorporate the change into ongoing activities. Whether it is announced in a weekly newsletter, or by recognizing “champions” during monthly or quarterly meetings, keeping the “new process” top of mind is an important part of change.

Communication is truly the key to change management effort. Success or failure is often determined by how well change is communicated to the team. Taking the steps above to analyze, plan and communicate will help ensure that your new program or process is a success.