Let’s start with the bad news…
“70% of change efforts fail” says the McKinsey Quarterly.
Even more pessimistic: “Only 55% of change projects are initially successful and only 25% are successful in the long run” (Towers Watson). Nearly every industry is trying to reinvent itself to become more adaptable and relevant, so why do companies have such abysmal records in effecting and managing change?
Each organization is different, but some change failure factors are more universal—one of those is poor internal communications. Leaders get caught up in budgets, deadlines, and drawing new org charts and neglect the very heart of the change process: communicating to employees what, how and why things are changing. And what those changes mean to employees.
The top two obstacles to successful change in organizations are employee resistance and communication breakdown.
Percentage of companies experiencing this obstacle during a major organizational change:
- Employee resistance 76%
- Communication breakdown 72%
- Insufficient time devoted to training 44%
- Staff turnover during transition 36%
- Costs exceeded budget 32%
Source: Corporate Executive Board
But, there is hope.
For an organizational change initiative to succeed and endure, employee resistance must evolve into employee engagement. Leaders who prioritize internal communication throughout the entire transition process will find that employees are more informed and positive about the change and have the confidence necessary to take the leap into new, unknown territory.
Achieving this requires a well-designed and executed strategic internal communications plan.
To be effective, the change communications plan must work to shift employee attitudes and behaviors related to the change at hand. As a result of the plan, employees must:
- Know: The “what,” “why” and “how” of your organization’s desired change
- Feel: Engaged, accountable and optimistic about the organization’s future
- Do: The actions and demonstrate the attitudes and behaviors needed to achieve the organizational vision.
A few characteristics of a good change communications plan:
- Stresses transparency and honesty.
- Takes into consideration which phase of transition people are likely experiencing.
- Includes all levels of the organization: executives, managers, and individual contributors.
- Is a dialogue: people have the opportunity to ask questions, give feedback, and make suggestions.
- Uses many different vehicles, from formal newsletters and executive messages to face-to-face sessions and social media.
- Is consistent. Employees hear from leadership on a regular cadence, and key messages are reinforced often.
“Companies effective in change management and communication are 3.5 times more likely to significantly outperform their industry peers that are not as effective in these areas,” says Towers Watson. Note that the increased success is attributed to change management and communication. Effective internal communication during times of significant organizational change isn’t a “nice to have”—it’s a “must have.”