The Art of Mastering Change: Communication

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Terry DowdBy Terry Dowd, CRA, FAHRA

March 2013—One of the most important components of successfully implementing any change – large or small – is communication. Great communication grabs attention. It keeps an initiative alive in the minds of employees. Therefore, it is extremely important that the communication be meaningful and direct.

The first step in any change process is to be sure that all the stakeholders are involved and there is a plan for them to receive the appropriate communication. This may be simple or difficult depending on the complexity of the issue. It is important to tailor the messages to each group’s preferences and needs. Failing to understand who needs to be included when communicating a change can lead to confusion and unnecessary delays in  implementing the change.

Next, the message must tie the proposed change to the goals of the company, facility, and department. We must provide the “big picture.” We are more likely to be successful if our teams understand the reasons for change. Employees want to know that their job and actions contribute to the success of any goal that needs to be achieved. When communicating, keep the message simple. Too much detail can distract. If the change involves a multi-step process or is very complicated, give an overview first and then define the steps individually in subsequent messages as the process progresses. Celebrate accomplishments as they occur along the way.

It is usually necessary to repeat information at least six times using different forms of communication. Each of us has different preferences about how we like to receive information. It is our job as imaging leaders to structure our communications to reach our employees through multiple avenues. Face to face communication can include staff meetings and one on one meetings between team members and leaders. Always summarize the key messages at the end of meetings to ensure understanding. Daily huddles are effective and are good opportunities to provide short, succinct updates.  Informal rounding by leaders on employees offers the opportunity to answer questions and address concerns. Employees who otherwise might be shy about raising issues in a group may share valuable insights when the conversation is less formal.

Email communication is effective if it’s kept short and concise. If the messages are too long, employees will often not read to the end and may miss important concepts. A weekly email snippet in PowerPoint format can be very effective as an attention getter. Decide on a color as a background for these messages in your department (for an example, we’ll use green). Use this color in the weekly messages as well as any other change communication you may send. Employees will know that anything green pertains to a change and needs their attention.

Are you going through a process change? Place laminated notes as reminders on PCs for a specific length of time. Use the color of change you have chosen for these reminders so they are distinctive and stand out. Make sure to remove older messages often; however, as they will not be effective if the PC is covered with them!

Involve your pro-change staff and supervisors in the communication process. This is a great time to involve emerging or informal leaders in the department. This requires a little coaching, but is well worth the effort. Invite them to talk to their peers, present information or updates at meetings, and answer questions. If possible allow them to visit other departments or facilities that have been through similar changes successfully. They can then tell the story of the process to your team. Don’t be afraid of them discovering problems that occurred or mistakes that were made on these visits. They will see how they were resolved, and it will help you to avoid the same issues at your facility or in your department.

And remember: it is not possible to over-communicate!

References:

Lencioni P. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive: A Leadership Fable. Hoboken, NJ: Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley; 2000.

Kotter, J.  Accelerate. Harvard Business Review. Nov 2012; 45-58.

Everse, G. Eight Effective Ways to Communicate Your Strategy More Effectively. Harvard Business Review. Available at: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/eight_ways_to_energize_your_te.html. Accessed March 1, 2013.

Snyder, R.  Making Changes That Dramatically Improve Results. Available at: www.breakthrough-inc.com.  Accessed February 12, 2013.


Terry Dowd, CRA, FAHRA is the senior clinical manager at Banner Health System-Baywood in Mesa, AZ. She can be reached at terry.dowd@bannerhealth.com.

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