The single greatest complaint I hear from people is that communication in their organization is lousy. I recently did a podcast on what to communicate to employees during the economic downturn. This article is about three good ways how to do that. People in them feel like they’re kept in the dark. Tough issues get glassed over. Even well intentioned efforts fall short of the mark.
Dan and Chip Heath, the brother team behind Made to Stick wrote a recent column in Fast Company on viral marketing. Their focus was on getting the good word out to customers about your products and services. The same advice works for communicating organizational change, too.
Here are three ways to use viral marketing to accelerate and sustain your organization’s change work:
• Tap into people’s emotions. French psychologist Bernard Rimé has done research proving people almost compulsively share emotional experiences (both positive and negative). The more intense the emotion, the more likely people are to share the experience. There is no better way to implement organization-wide changes than through shared experiences.
• Focus on what people in your organization are most scared about regarding your change effort. That’s where their energy is. Here’s the rub. We’re told it’s not okay to “get emotional” in business settings. The problem with that MO is that change is emotional. Put your emotions on the table and encourage others to do the same. Share your authentic feelings. And ask how they’re feeling right now.
• Pass the word on about changes as a form of “public service.” In viral marketing, “public service” is often called a small favor. Something that helps. Everyday examples include recommending a movie, good book, or restaurant.
• Engage people in your change work in ways that will help them. We’re usually clear about what others can do to support our cause. Less certain about how we can support theirs. This goes a step beyond listening and understanding. And far beyond the traditional selling to convince people that the changes will work out for them in the end. Find out what others need to make the changes work for them. What help do they need whether it’s more information, new skills, or just to vent their frustrations.
• Put “triggers” in place. “Triggers” are environmental reminders to talk about an idea or issue. Visual management is one form of this that made its way through organizations in the 1980’s. It lets people know at a glance the progress made so far, outstanding issues, and successes to celebrate.
• Post regular updates on progress made toward your organization’s goals. Keep the change conversation alive by including status reports in every meeting. Send out a broadcast email with interim reports. You don’t have to wait until a project’s over to get people up to speed about what you’ve done. It’s a lot easier for others to pitch in when they’re in the loop all along the way.
How do you handle the ever-present communication problems in your organization? What’s worked and what hasn’t? Any tips and advice you can share or requests for help that you have?