Expert Insights

Making change faster and stickier

When a company undergoes major change, it can be an uncertain time for its employees. Effective communication will not only help your people understand what’s happening and why, but it will also help you understand their views and concerns. As experienced change communications expert Phyllida Barr tells us, communication plays an important role in building trust and making change stick.

While virtually all major companies have their own in-house communication team, those teams often don’t have the capacity or the relevant experience to take on a major change programme.

Bringing in an independent, dedicated and experienced communicator can offer many benefits, including:

  • Offering a fresh, unencumbered perspective
  • Being in a position to work closely with both an organisation’s most senior people and its communications team
  • Having the confidence to challenge decisions or ask difficult questions that no one wants to address
  • Having been there and done it all before

Phyllida has spent more than two decades creating and implementing communication strategies and plans for many major companies. She says: “It’s a good idea to bring communicators in at the beginning of a change programme so they can understand the objective as well as what the change will mean for employees, right from the start.

An effective change communicator will help managers make sense of change for their teams, maintaining employee trust. They will also make sure the change team and senior managers understand the impact change will have on employees.”

Using effective channels

Phyllida argues that a change communicator needs to be part of the change team, directly reporting to the programme director and having a strong link to the programme sponsor. At the same time, they also need to work closely with the communications team, which knows the company culture, and can advise which communication channels work well within it. Corporate and programme messages must always be closely aligned.

“One of the challenges is that the channels for communication have changed dramatically. Alongside traditional methods, such as newsletters, you increasingly have social media. Some companies are comfortable using social media, others are not. Some of your employees may not even use a computer. You really have to understand what works for which employee groups.

“However, one of the constants is that people like to receive important information face to face, usually from their line manager. That’s the person they trust. People look to their manager for answers, so businesses need to equip those people with the right information.”

Listening carefully

A lack of clear and timely information can leave a vacuum for rumour, uncertainty and distrust. At the same time, communication should be a two-way street and the project team should also be listening to employees, their concerns and questions. This could be through social media, regular surveys and even from senior managers going around talking to people. Managers who do this, says Phyllida, often find it enjoyable and learn huge amounts.

If you communicate well, change will be so much easier to implement, and it will stick.

Throughout the change programme, an independent communicator can be an integral part of the organisation. There’s a strong business case to be made for employing one: the failure to have a clear communication strategy or the expertise to implement it correctly, can be very costly. As Phyllida summarises: “If you communicate well, change will be so much easier to implement, and it will stick.”

An independent communicator can:

  • Create and deliver a powerful change communication strategy.
  • Help maintain employee trust in managers throughout the change process.
  • Make sure the change team understands the impact change will have on employees.

Phylidia Barr

Phyllida Barr is an experienced consultant and practitioner in change and internal communications. She has over 20 years’ experience in consultancy, in-house and interim roles for major national and international organisations.

Williams Bain

Williams Bain is an exclusive hybrid interim and change management provider. We’re trusted by some of the UK’s largest organisations to support the implementation of complex strategies that accelerate results and lead to definitive, positive and measurable change.