When an organization approaches me to do any kind of organizational restructuring I like to address the project using change management principles. Change management, according to Wikipedia, is “an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state.” The change itself could include a new software program, a revised mission or a different strategic direction.
Whatever the change, if the individuals who will be affected by it are uncertain about what the newly developed or newly revamped system will look like, and how they will fit into it, they may resist. Managing communication is one strategy that can build support for change and deal with the rumors, gossip, and potential resistance that may come with change. Creating a system-wide communications plan or strategy enhances accessibility within a system. This plan is needed regardless of the stakeholders, but it’s particularly important if your stakeholders include a group or groups of people who are already feeling disempowered.
Eliciting feedback from stakeholders in ways that foster and build relationships is essential to the long-term success and sustainability of any organizational effort. You can call this strategy a participatory process, relational dialogues, or a continuous feedback process. A strategy for continuously receiving information and feedback, utilizing methods that are meaningful and respectful, whatever the name, is an attribute of an inclusive, or open, system.
Having a plan to manage communication is integral to developing such a system. A communication plan is important because, through it, you can create a forum for people to give their suggestions and voice objections, while you proactively (versus reactively) manage responses. The plan should identify your primary and secondary audiences and offer multiple strategies for reaching them.
A while back my colleague Linda Garrett Johnson and I completed a project with a government agency in which we helped to implement a state wide system of professional development for childcare providers. As a part of our research and planning, we looked at the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Afterschool Investments Project report titled, “A Guide for Effective Governance: Considerations and Lessons Learned for Afterschool Networks” (http://www.researchconnections.org/childcare/resources/13559/pdf). The guide offers suggestions for the development of a communications plan. For example, you should take the following into consideration:
- Communicate with all groups within the system frequently or on a regular basis; decide on the frequency of communication for each group;
- Determine the type of communications and the most effective strategy for each audience (e.g., regular email, monthly meetings, or quarterly newsletters);
- Craft an appropriate message for each group (e.g., messages that resonate with practitioners may be less convincing to the business community); and
- Determine how often and by what means the system will reach out to those organizations that are not yet formal members (e.g., what type of information will be shared, and how often updates will be distributed).
We added the following to our client recommendations:
- Methods of outreach and communication should enhance stakeholder experiences by helping individuals within the system feel included; and
- Methods of outreach and communication should increase accessibility to system activities.
Change, even positive change, can be scary. In organizations, as in our own personal lives, the more information and context we have at our disposal, the greater our ability to manage it.