The more your target group understands and accepts the need for change, the more positively they’ll respond to the process. If you want your staff to be invested in a change initiative, you have to leave your secret room and share as much about the final goal as you can.

Asking others to do something different often means exposing them to a situation which will initially disrupt their balance of everyday life—the balance between their routines, their sense of security and self-confidence, and sometimes their perception of their future working life.

On a personal level, working with a change initiative (like swapping a familiar work tool with a new one, changing an organisational structure, or taking on a new assortment to sell) can inspire a sense of loss. But on the plus side, it also means moving on to something new and better.

Methods for bridging these feelings are to acknowledge and explore the target group’s understanding and commitment—to help them work positively and purposefully with change tasks—by making them feel involved.

Far too many times, we’ve seen ways of communicating change that follow a certain pattern. Those promoting the change simply tell their entire workforce what’s expected, then it’s: “Now you just have to do what we said! Easy!”.

This way of thinking can – and actually still does, surprisingly – work in organisations where there’s a “Do as you’re told!” culture. But today, generally speaking, this ‘classic industrial’ type of corporate culture is becoming less and less of a winning formula.

In today’s world, companies need staff who take initiative, who dare to try out new ideas, and who question the status quo. In this complex world, ‘the boss knows best’ idea no longer works as it once did.

The only time this approach might still work is if there is an exceptionally inspiring and clear goal and a perceived benefit that far exceeds the benefits of the current situation. An example of this might be when a new product model is launched. If it’s obvious that the new model would be easier to sell, bring more customer benefits, and looks and feels much better than the current model, it’s an easy change to get behind and take on – with pleasure!

Unfortunately, most of the business changes we encounter aren’t like that. They’re usually more based on hypotheses and assumptions about better and more efficient routines and activities after the change has been implemented. In this way of thinking, the physical and real benefits of change don’t appear until quite late in the journey.

As with all change, it’s about the credibility of the initiators—in rhetorical terms, their ethos. Credibility is obtained if the message is perceived as well-founded, ethically motivated and conveyed with energy and enthusiasm by its representatives. From the recipient’s perspective, the all-encompassing factor is for the initiator to appear fully committed to the change.

A good example is the digitisation of the workplace. Although this has been going on for the past 30 years, it’s now shifting more towards cloud-based solutions that enable collaboration and interaction between colleagues in completely new ways.

For example, many companies have chosen to use Microsoft cloud-based technology and applications. Introducing the use of, say, MS OneDrive, which allows us to reach, share and work in the same document, is a good idea and ‘easy to sell’ for Microsoft. But introducing this as a new common way of working in an organisation is a whole other story.

One thing’s for sure: we’ll only be using these tools to their full potential if everyone works in the same way. This can take time, and actually has little to do with the technology itself. Even if we’ve rationally understood how it all works, it’s our previously formed habits that stand in the way of change.

Dialogue is a good and simple method for saving a substantial amount of time – before, during and after the initial training.

The basic question for all types of new technical aids is about whether you, as a user, understand, feel and experience the benefits yourself. It’s then – and only then – that you’ll stop storing documents locally on your hard drive or using your own private cloud solutions to store your work-related items.

Dialogue is about more than just conversations between two individuals. It’s just as much about being part of the whole context, in which you’re not alone in asking questions. ‘The proof is in the pudding’. If you can work with others to make a new pudding, it’ll be easier to learn. And if you see others struggling with the same issues that you might have, you’ll feel more engaged and in it together.

Invite people in to ask, to engage, to change

Figuratively speaking, commitment is created by opening the doors of your change bunker and inviting employees into the upcoming change. Let them know that not only are they allowed to participate, but they’re expected and encouraged to do so.

As change communicators, you can contribute by supporting the organisation with activities, and an infrastructure that invites dialogue. Leaders should be supported with tools that facilitate and encourage constructive dialogue with their employees.

Dialogue is about daring to talk about what’s difficult or unclear and affects employees’ everyday lives. But, perhaps above all, dialogue is about creating something new and exciting together.

The point is to show that the door to your secret room is open by inviting calls, asking questions and by actively listening. Make them feel that your room is their room.

In this way, the key change representatives have an effective weapon against doubt, ignorance and destructive counterforces, and an effective lubricant for engagement.

Practical tips for the change communicator

  • Dialogue-creating meeting places, both virtual and physical, help keep the door open – and everyone engaged.
  • Invite the stakeholders and members of the target group into the creative process of shaping the narrative and key messages. A way to speed this process up would be to use Design Sprints and run a quick step-by-step process to build a first ‘prototype’ of the communication concept. Test and adjust. By using this approach, you will have opened the door to the ‘secret room’ even before the roll-out begins.
  • When it’s time to ‘roll out’, think involvement, not compliance. Involvement means creating dialogue, as opposed to just spreading information. Find out what kind of media and channels would help to engage and inspire people to take part in the conversation, and trigger participation in the change process.