Help Guide: Effectively Communicating a Business Transformation – Why it Matters and How to Do It Right
Business transformations are pivotal moments in an organization’s journey towards growth and success. Whether it’s a strategic shift, a digital transformation, or a cultural change, effectively communicating the transformation is vital for its successful implementation. Clear communication ensures that all stakeholders understand the vision, objectives, and expected outcomes, aligning everyone towards a common goal. In this article, we will explore why effective communication is crucial during a business transformation, common mistakes organizations make, and examples of companies that have excelled in this endeavor.
Why Effective Communication Matters
Alignment and Buy-In: Clear communication helps align employees, stakeholders, and partners with the transformational goals, creating a sense of purpose and fostering buy-in. When individuals understand the “why” behind the transformation, they are more likely to support the changes and actively contribute to its success.
Mitigating Resistance: Change often leads to resistance, which can hinder the transformation process. Open and transparent communication addresses concerns, dispels rumours, and encourages feedback, reducing resistance and promoting a smoother transition.
Managing Expectations: Transparent communication sets realistic expectations about the transformation’s timeline, challenges, and potential outcomes. This reduces the risk of disappointment and ensures that all parties are prepared for the journey ahead.
Empowering Employees: Effective communication empowers employees by giving them a clear understanding of their role in the transformation. When employees feel informed and involved, they become more engaged and committed to making the change a success.
Common Mistakes Organisations Make
- Lack of Clarity: One of the most common mistakes is communicating the transformation without clear and concise messaging. Ambiguous information can lead to confusion and anxiety among stakeholders.
- Top-Down Approach: Relying solely on top-down communication can create a perception of dictation rather than collaboration. Organizations should foster two-way communication to ensure that employees’ voices are heard, and their feedback is valued.
- Ignoring Feedback: Organizations sometimes overlook valuable feedback from employees, customers, or partners. Failing to address concerns and suggestions can lead to missed opportunities for improvement.
- Inconsistent Communication: Inconsistent messaging across various channels can cause confusion and undermine the credibility of the transformation process.
Examples of Organizations using Communication Effectively
Microsoft: When Microsoft underwent a transformation from a software-focused company to a cloud-based service provider, they communicated their vision clearly and consistently. They engaged employees at all levels through town halls, webinars, and feedback sessions, fostering a sense of ownership in the transformation process.
IBM: IBM’s transformation to a leading artificial intelligence and cloud services provider involved retraining thousands of employees. They established clear communication channels to explain the reasons behind the transformation, the benefits to employees, and the new skills required. This helped ease anxieties and encouraged a learning-oriented culture.
Starbucks: Starbucks successfully implemented a transformation centred on sustainability and reducing its environmental impact. They communicated their commitment to sustainability through engaging storytelling, multimedia campaigns, and transparent reporting of their progress. This approach resonated with customers and strengthened the brand’s reputation.
Tips for Effective Communication
Communication is one of those topics that’s very tricky to get right. John Kotter suggests that most leaders under-communicate their strategy by a factor of 10. We would also argue that more is not necessarily better if care is not taken about the channels and appropriateness of the messages to each person on the receiving end. We live in a world of overwhelming amounts of information and seen many times that with the best of intentions people get lots of information but have trouble understanding what it means to them. There is a saying that we live in a world of more data whilst also being less informed in so many ways.
We would suggest following the 6 ‘C’s outlined below as a guide to ensure you are on the right track.
- Conversation – Ensure two-way dialogue and listen with an open mind. It’s very difficult to know whether what was said was actually understood in the way it was intended. That’s why we recommend more conversation, whether it’s via focus groups, open forums, Q&A sessions, anonymous surveys, ensure people have a way to ask the questions that matter to them and to clarify they have understood correctly. That’s what we do naturally when we’re talking to each other.
- Clarity – Be open, clear and straight with kindness. Consider the language you are using and whether it is appropriate to the audience, taking into account their background and other factors. If there is something that needs to be said that’s less positive, then say it, don’t avoid the issue because it will become obvious. Consider how the message is likely to feel from the perspective of those hearing it and acknowledge that. In all cases act with good intent to the receiver.
- Congruence – Voice tone, facial expression and actions all matter. We have an innate sense of when someone is being honest and giving us the whole truth, so be genuine and ensure people can see that you mean what you say. If you are indeed being genuine then that will come through naturally, if not then adjust the message so it is truly from the heart.
- Cadence – Consistent timing avoiding unexpected communication gaps. A common mistake is to hold off communicating for fear of getting it wrong or because the news isn’t great. The problem with that is that gaps create concern and confusion, then other stories begin to emerge because we all have a great imagination. If you can’t say something for legal or ethical reasons then make it clear, explain why and say when you will be able to give more detail. Once stories begin to build then it can be difficult to recover the narrative.
- Customised – Tailor the message and the delivery of it to the reader’s needs and learning style preferences. Remember that people have different learning preferences, some are more visually based (pictures, diagrams etc), others auditory (words and sounds) or kinaesthetic (feelings, touch, experience) so at least an awareness that each will have preferences on how they receive information. Ideally communication should cater for all three.
- Consistency – Ensure the message is consistent with other messages and the context. Another common mistake is to have different communication across the organisation that is either not aligned in itself, e.g. different leaders giving conflicting messages or the communication internally doesn’t fully reflect information or trends externally in the public domain externally. Even subtle changes in the way something is said can end up causing confusion if it can be interpreted as different to what has been said before. This can quickly undermine a lot of good work.
Effectively and clearly communicating a business transformation is essential for its successful execution. It aligns stakeholders, mitigates resistance, and empowers employees, setting the stage for a smooth and productive transformation journey. By learning from the mistakes of others and drawing inspiration from organizations that have excelled in communication, businesses can embark on their transformative journeys with confidence and achieve long-term success.