A “Quick Start Guide” to Change Communication

June 15, 2015

Do you want people to actually adopt your new technology?

Imagine people effectively using the system that you’ve spent so much of your credibility, time, and money implementing. Fortunately, change communication doesn’t need to be an elaborate or painful process. Follow these practical steps to apply what you naturally know about excellent change management.

The key steps are:

  • Grab the attention of your target audience.
  • Explain the benefits to them.
  • Tell (or show) them what to do.
  • Address their top concerns.
  • Keep it simple, but also provide details when needed.

This sounds easy, but how often do you see things explained this way in the workplace? In contrast, we often see it done well in the world of advertising. Typically the techniques are done so well that we barely recognize them being used. Maybe this explains why these steps are often skipped during a crucial software rollout within an organization.

The most common mistakes include:

  • Lost in the Noise – A culture of broadcast messaging to people who aren’t included
  • Missing WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) – Busy people don’t see any benefit
  • Inertia – Being unclear about how to take the first step
  • Barriers – Neither anticipating nor removing the real (and perceived) roadblocks
  • TMI (Too Much Information) – Emailing a 30-page PDF document that nobody reads

First define your audience, identify their motivators, and figure out the best channels to reach them. Then develop a succinct message and test it with some people from your target audience. Advertising agencies wouldn’t exist if these steps didn’t make a difference.

Spending the extra time streamlining change communication is a worthwhile investment. Mark Twain famously apologized for his lack of editing with the statement, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Since a lot of people are going to read your “letters,” these initial efforts will pay off through better adoption.

Mark Twain quote

Next, map out the tasks. The advantage of clarifying what you are asking people to DO is that this exercise flushes out any barriers to getting it done. At that point, you can either remove the barriers or update the task. Testing the rollout process is almost as important as testing the software itself — especially if the system involves changes to roles and responsibilities.

Regarding simplicity, there’s a recent trend to eliminate those 30-page manuals (that nobody reads), but they are often being replaced with silence. The danger with this extreme brevity is that disorientation itself becomes a barrier.   Albert Einstein’s quote “Everything Should Be Made as Simple as Possible. But Not Simpler,” sums up the challenge nicely.

Albert Einstein quote

For example:

Many companies give Fitbit devices to employees as part of their wellness program. Let’s assume that they’ve done a nice job of motivating employees to participate in the program. At some point, a small box shows up on everyone’s desk (or at home) containing five puzzling items.


The box also contains a tiny slip of paper that simply reads:

“To set up, go to: www.fitbit.com/setup.”

The referenced website says:

Set up a Fitbit Device

“Download our free software to link your device to Fitbit. Once you’ve set up, you can sync your data.”

…and then walks the user through a fairly technical setup process.

What seems to be missing is a high-level orientation on the setup page that says something like this:

  • What is it? Your Fitbit Flex is a rubber strap that holds a removable chip. You put it on your wrist and the chip basically counts your daily steps.
  • What to do? You must register on the Fitbit website to see your statistics. To allow your chip to talk to the website, you must insert a special device into your computer and then install some software. This process will only take about five minutes.
  • What else? Start walking! Log into the website to see how you are doing. After about 5 days, you will need to recharge the chip with a special cable that connects to your computer.

To an existing Fitbit user, these descriptions seem fairly obvious, but for first-time users they are quite helpful. People won’t read a 30-page manual, but they will read three paragraphs. Note the lack of technical jargon like “USB Port” and “Dongle.” Save the details and reference material for when people want to know advanced things. The trick is to simplify at first – and layer in the details later.

This example illustrates that even something basic like a fitness program can get complex. Now imagine rolling out something more complicated such as a new online performance management system. The change communication principles are the same, but the content will need to be richer. Keep in mind that participation in a fitness program is normally voluntary. If there are problems, most frustrated users will simply choose to drop out. Unfortunately, a performance management program is normally mandatory, so all those frustrated users will be calling YOU.

You can avoid those negative phone calls and be a change management hero by following the key steps. If you need help, find someone with experience in making it happen. Make your project a success!