Actions to take: Raise the bar for what you think it takes to be "done" communicating a change. With any important change, start by announcing the change in an all-hands staff meeting. Use the 4-step outline described below.
In the Announce Before You Implement post, step one told you to announce the change. But what does that mean, precisely?
You can only say that you have effectively announced a change when: 1) everyone who will be impacted knows the change will happen, 2) knows when the change will happen, and 3) fully understands the implications of the change. This is a high bar to clear. Most bosses don't even cover the first point fully, much less the second and third.
Announcing change is not a simple thing. Communication has not happened until the listener gets the message. Stop thinking that communication is done when the speaker sends it. Some bosses have an almost spiteful attitude about communicating with their team. They'll announce something once during a staff meeting (or worse, email it), and then the stance is, "hey, that's your problem" for anyone who missed the meeting or missed particular details.
Sorry bosses, but you don't get to push responsibility (or blame) down the chain. It is your job to ensure that your message has been communicated. If it is important, say it many times. You only get to say you have announced a change after you are confident that your directs have received and understand what you are saying.
There are two things you need to do to ensure that your employees got the message. First, provide the right kind of detail in the initial announcement. Second, follow up with each staff member.
The follow up is easy, provided you are doing weekly one-on-ones with your team. Add it to your list for the meeting after your initial announcement. In that meeting, don't ask, "do you have any questions?" Instead, ask, "What questions do you have?" For anyone who says they have none, probe at their understanding by asking them what aspects of their work will be altered due to the change.
It is more complicated to provide an initial announcement that guarantees your staff will understand the change. In fact, it is impossible to guarantee that an employee will understand. The following 4-step announcement outline will get you about as close as possible, though. I strongly encourage you to do this at a meeting with all of your direct reports. Hopefully you do a weekly team meeting, as that practice makes it very easy to address changes as they come up.
1) Bottom Line Up Front:
Provide brief, blunt highlights of the change. What's happening, how will it impact us, and when. Example: "Our meeting room booking process is changing. We will be required to learn a new software, and there will be a built-in system of priority booking depending on the usage. The new system goes live in five weeks on June 21st."
Giving the bottom line up front will get everyone's attention. They will know the headline, so everything you say from here on will have context.
2) Spend Time on Why:
You need to make your employees care about this change. They need to care at least enough to pay attention to the details and genuinely think about what it means for their work. We are all busy, with a thousand things pulling our attention.
The best way to make sure your thing gets some of that attention is to appeal to some aspect that your employees actually care about. Example: "I know learning a new software is a pain in the ass. But this is going to be good for us. We've been complaining about this booking system for a while. Tam, just last week you were in my office annoyed that our current software dropped your booking. Rebecca, we just had a discussion about how we should be giving priority for certain events..."
For the sake of brevity, I cut this part of the example short. Spend more time on this section of your announcement than any other. It is the most important step. If you make people care about the change, but you fail to adequately explain the details, it's going to be fine. They'll come after you to make sure they get those details. If you fail to make people care, they will not be motivated to follow up. They probably won't think about it enough to realize they need to follow up on some aspect.
It can be difficult to get back to the basics of “why”. When we’ve lived with a change or decision in our minds for a while, we stop worrying about why. It’s a done deal mentally, so we stop spending effort on it. Force yourself to go back and remember what it was like before you had this idea in your head. Spend time thinking about why it matters to make this change.
3) Describe the Change:
This is the easy part. This is what you (or whomever is instigating this change) have been thinking about for however long you have been working on the change. Go into detail on what it is going to look like. Example: "I have access to the sandbox version of the new meeting room software. Let me bring it up on the screen and go through some of the features..."
4) Describe the Change Process:
The change process is not the change. We overlook the amount of work necessary to plan an effective change process because we are so focused on the change itself. If you are constructing a new building, the change is the building. The change process is the construction. A good overview of the change process will ensure that your employees know:
- the timeline, including important dates (training due, "go live" date, etc.)
- who will be affected
- in what ways they will be affected
- how we will overcome those effects
- who will be responsible for overcoming those effects
- and when we will be "done" implementing.
We are all so used to feeling unprepared for changes that we assume that is the way it has to be. Follow this advice, and your employees will be saying, "let's get on with it already" while everyone else is frustrated that they never get any warning before changes happen.