Thinking differently about change communications in the corporate world

SME’s make up the vast majority of UK businesses and they are hungry for growth. That combined with constant change in the external global environment they now operate in means that change communications is often at the forefront of the minds of many SMEs.

Change communications starts with communication itself. For me, communication is simply the outward expression of human emotion. In corporate training courses I deliver I will often deliberately be silent for one and a half minutes. It is interesting to watch people’s reactions. And it is equally interesting that despite doing this several times now it is still also uncomfortable each time. I hate it as it makes me feel awkward. It never gets easier but it is important for me to do it because it illustrates and proves a key point.

Silence makes us as humans uncomfortable. Why? I suggest it is because we are sociable by nature. We want to communicate at an emotional level with others. Indeed, we communicate continually with each other even when we are silent – through our body language.

Communication is what humanity lives for. Think deeply about that statement for a minute.

Traditionally when we talk about SME corporate change communications programmes we talk about keeping our employees informed of the changes. That is important but that is not the whole story. We miss an important point. You see, for me, keeping employees informed and engaging with them is NOT necessarily the same thing as engaging with employees at an emotional level. (see how I put the word “emotional” in italics there to emphasise it?)

Emotions drive our thoughts and behaviours. Think about that sentence for a second. In the context of SME corporate change communications it is an important point. The SME organisation is responding to an external change that is impacting on it. That means employees have to behave differently to respond to that change. When we are talking about employees behaving in a new way to respond to change or doing something different, we are talking really about driving behavioural change in employees. You won’t get behavioural change with a traditional change communications strategy approach. It needs to go deeper.

In terms therefore of the design an SME corporate change communications programme for your organisation focus first on tightly defining the exact new behaviours you want from your employees globally. What new behaviours do they need to adopt to enable the desired outcomes of the change communications programme to be realised? Take the time to define these first. Then after that stage two is identifying the emotions that will trigger those desired behaviours in your employees. In stage three you draw on communications science like psycholinguistics, NLP and multimedia digital content that will become the trigger for generating those emotions in your employees. You design your change communications strategy therefore in a structured and scientific way for it to be truly sustainable.

Success is measured first by getting an independent baseline measure before you start. At key stages of the SME corporate change communications programme you measure the degree of change in employee attitude and behaviour against that baseline. My advice would be to do this incrementally because that way it enables you to identify the specific communications activity that brought about that change or equally, as the case could be, which isn’t working.

One idea in particular is to focus on visual and auditory communications content that stimulate the senses and is designed to connect on an emotional level with people. Visual communications, such as emotional images in a video, or an emotional image or soundtrack, are often more effective at generating and intensifying emotions in a person than words alone. We live in an age of digital multimedia content. Use that to your advantage. Don’t just show this multimedia content once. Repeat it and refine it in order to continually reinforce and drive these desired emotions in your employees globally.

To conclude, for me SME corporate change communications for a brand is not, and should never just be about keeping employees informed and asking their opinions on a change programme. Rather, it should be more about engaging with them on an emotional level to drive a change in their thinking and emotions towards the organisation. That in turn is what will drive a sustainable change in their behaviours. Focus first on driving changes in emotion and then from that it becomes easier for you to drive change in behaviour with employees.