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Effective communication can change everything

Good communication is an art and a science. So just how can you get your best get your message out, and ensure that it’s both heard and effective?

If you’ve read the last article in this series, and have managed to get the C-suite to agree and sign off the changes you’ve shown them were needed for the success of the business, then you might be forgiven for thinking, even briefly, that the most tricky job is well and truly done.

That thought isn’t going to stay with you for long. Because you now have to communicate those changes. It doesn’t matter if this vital communication involves talking to 50 or 50,000 employees, it’s yet another moment when you need to get things spot on. But as with creating the change itself, it can be done – and rewards for getting it right are huge.

So where do you start when it comes to ensuring your communications really drive successful change?

How to master the art and science of communications

In a recent episode of The Human Factor  podcast I got to talk about communication with Helen Willetts, BT Group’s director of internal communications. She had some terrific things to say and experiences to share, and I’d like to pass just a few of those thoughts onto you now; they really do get to the very centre of what matters when it comes to communicating change to employees.

Her first point, and this one really needs to be understood before you do anything at all, is that communication really is an art and a science. There are, therefore, no hard-and-fast rules set down in stone tablets, which any would-be successful communicator can easily follow. It’s about having the right feel, and not being rigid and tied to any one set of communications ‘guidelines’.  

But having said that, Helen does have some further thoughts about just how to shape successful communications campaigns. Here are just three nuggets for you to consider.

  1. Treat people as adults

A communication isn’t a lecture. You can’t have the whiff of the teacher-pupil about this. Instead it’s best to imagine you are talking to someone you like. By keeping that in mind, you are far less likely to stray into patronising or condescending language. Being able to connect with an audience especially on a large scale is extremely challenging, so getting the tone of the delivery is crucial. 

  1. Avoid ambiguity

You need to be clear and precise. The aim is to connect with people, not to sell them something. Leave the selling to the marketing team. Remember this is about communication – and the language of sales is not what this kind of communication is about. Remember again that these are people you like: you can’t hide behind vague phrases and unclear thoughts. You owe them the unvarnished truth. Tell it straight, without ambiguity.

  1. Pick the best channel/s for the communication

Your employees are linked into a wide digital web of information. It is hitting them from multiple sources and through a variety of channels. A school of thought may suggest that “more channels, the better the chance of capturing someone’s attention” but the reverse can also happen. Being clear which channel or channels is appropriate and for which piece of communication is an important consideration. Directing your audience to one single channel for a vital organisation update may be the right strategy as that is the only place to hear it and it can be controlled. Communicating a new product, or an employee benefit may require and be better suited to multiple channels. So consider your options carefully and choose the one most likely to reach the most people at the right time.   


Why successful communication is a two-way street

As I said, that’s just three great ideas. There are plenty more in the podcast for you to learn from, and I hope you enjoy it.

But before you rush to click through at the bottom of this page to hear more from Helen, it’s also vitally important to put yourself in the place of the recipients of your message. How are they most likely to react? Even if you have crafted your message with the greatest of care, how can you be sure that they have fully understood the communication? At the very least they might have questions or need to have some things explained further. Have you channels or mechanisms in place that they can use to find answers to those questions or give you feedback?

Communication is a two-way street. It’s not just about asking people to hear what you have to say, it’s also about hearing what those people have to say in response. Unless you take that on board you take the big risk that while they might hear what you are saying, they might also have their own take on what it is they heard. So you need mechanisms in place to make sure they have also understood the communication and are acting on it in the way you want them to.

The digital age means it’s hard to manage the key messages once they’re out there. The onus is on you to get it right. But by treating your audience as adults, approaching them as people you like, and giving them the opportunity to give you feedback, you can ensure that communications really do allow your organisation to change things for the better. 

Next time, we’ll be asking the vital question: how do you know that the change has taken hold? Has the needle really moved or not? Look out for both the article and podcast in about a month’s time.

Michael Esau is global HR advisor for SAP

Our podcasts series, The Human Factor, has been created to discuss just such tricky but highly relevant topics. In the podcast episodes we talk to leading experts about the issues and themes that influence people and the world of work, and they share their thoughts about the skills and techniques you need to succeed. The whole catalogue of episodes, including the one with BT Group’s Helen Willetts, is available right here.

To find out more about SAP SuccessFactors in-person event calendar for this year, where HR professionals discuss how technology will help you to answer the vital questions your business needs to address, contact SAP.