Looking to develop a change comms plan that will keep your teams informed and engaged? You’ve come to the right place.
Some internal comms are sent to employees on a one-off basis. They could be quick updates, news, or just messages that aren’t part of a series. There’s definitely a need for internal comms to be flexible and responsive based on ad-hoc situations in a business.
That said, for a broader campaign that is more strategic in nature and designed to reflect an organization’s wider mission and values, an internal communication plan is essential.
In this article, we’ll cover how best to structure that plan, how to bring it to life, and how to measure its effectiveness.?
We’re going to look through the lens of a real-world example – one that requires detailed planning and execution. So, taking a critical change communications campaign, let’s detail the scenario.
The change comms plan in focus
Company Y is implementing new employee benefits software as part of a digital transformation project. Mindful of the concerns and needs of staff, migration from the existing system, and the need for careful implementation, the comms team is tasked with creating a plan.
The delivery of the project is expected to take five weeks, with specific milestones:
- Week 1 – Project plan creation. Assignment of roles, responsibilities, and targets.
- Week 2 – Information to be provided to all managers to hold face-to-face meetings.
- Week 3 – A series of wider comms to all staff with practical advice, instructions, and communication of procedures.
- Week 4 – Implementation and troubleshooting.
- Week 5 – Feedback and adjustment.
- Week 6 – Measurement.
The overall objective is to gain business-wide adoption so that the new system works successfully for all employees.
Creating an internal comms plan
There’s little doubt that communication is the most important tool for successful change management. That said, you will only succeed if everyone is on board. Employees must understand why change is happening so they are motivated to play their part.
Simon Sinek famously said, “People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.” He may have been talking about a company’s value proposition for external customers, but the relevance for internal comms is unquestionable.
He goes on to argue, “When most organizations or people think, act or communicate they do so from the outside in, from WHAT to WHY.”
Therefore, the critical first step in planning is to define the objective clearly. Don’t overcomplicate things; a single, straightforward objective will do more to create a strong sense of purpose than having too many.
In the case of Company Y, it could be to improve employee experience with a benefits system that’s more transparent, easier to engage with, and clearly defines the steps to bonuses or advancement.
An effective internal comms plan includes elements like:
- The objective and mission
- Key messages and channels of communication
- Project team responsibilities
- The deliverables
- Employee roles & responsibilities
- Key timelines and deadlines
It’s become something of a cliche, but the SMART approach is still one of the best planning tools. So, your objective should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.
To help, we’ve created an internal communication plan template, which you can find here.
Which brings us nicely to execution.
How to execute a change comms plan?
So, in our Company Y example, we know the broad objective is to improve employee experience. The immediate benefits of a new HR system, it could be argued, are not as compelling for employees as, say, a critical work system that they find troublesome.
The key role of internal comms in all change projects is to encourage adoption by getting employees to play their part. If employees understand why it matters and, ultimately, what’s in it for them, they will be far more inclined to play their part in achieving the objective.
It’s all about countering something that is completely natural; like it or not, us humans are wired to fear change, especially when we feel we’re not in control of it.
That’s why the key messages in any change comms plan should begin with why the change is happening, why it is happening at this time, and what’s at risk if the change does not happen.
Then, by communicating the benefits and educating employees about them, any ambivalence, or even resistance, to change can quickly be addressed.
In our example, some messaging subject lines could be:
- We’re changing how we do rewards
- Ready to embrace a better benefits system?
- Access your benefits better – here’s how
- 3 simple steps to access benefits better
Of course, the channels won’t be just email. They could also include lunch and learns, a staff intranet, messages on screen-savers, interactive Q&A forums, virtual or face-to-face meetings, and so on.
It’s also really important to consider exactly how and when these messages will be delivered. To be authentic and achieve employee buy-in, these comms should come from relevant senders.
For example, the HR Director in Company Y would be the best person to issue comms on the organizational reasons for change. More immediate managers or supervisors could then deal with the more personal impacts on employees.
Establishing a group of preferred senders will add weight to your comms and make them more convincing.
Some execution pointers include:
- Make sure key messages are consistent and repeated
- Know the questions employees will have and answer them first
- Tailor drip-feed comms to target smaller groups
- Include manager cascades, small group and in-person meetings
- Factor in the time and space for staff feedback
Manage what you can measure
Though the topic has come at the end of this article, it certainly is not an afterthought. At the campaign planning stage, you should establish your baseline using analytics that will show how far you’ve traveled. In other words, know what you are trying to improve and by how much.
Being human-centered, as internal comms is, the opinions, feelings, and qualitative measures you get from surveys, polls, and focus groups are vital. But so too are the numeric measures, such as open rates, click-throughs, shares, and reactions.
For Company Y, improving employee experience will also benefit productivity, employee wellbeing, and retention rates. How you measure success should also factor in longer-term business goals.