Suppose you’ve been tasked with creating a communications plan to educate and communicate a digital initiative to users across your organization. Who do you target, what do you say, where do you start?
As the importance of an effective Organizational Change Management (OCM) strategy has finally become better understood, more and more companies are beginning to implement pieces of organizational change into their implementation initiatives. Communications, while only a piece of the greater OCM puzzle, is a very important piece of your SAP S/4HANA, Oracle ERP, or Microsoft D365 change management plan (or any other ERP implementation, for that matter).
While we strongly recommend engaging third-party expertise to help, if you have been given the “do this now” message to create a communications plan, here are a few pointers to get you started:
The executive teams, project team and users will all need slightly different messaging, so consider breaking the plan into appropriate target audiences. Depending on what the rollout looks like, the plan may need to be further broken out to follow a phased implementation, altering messaging to functional areas or geographies.
Also consider that everyone in the organization will need some form of communication if you are looking at an enterprise initiative, regardless of their direct roles or responsibilities. Otherwise, people feel left out and will start making up their own communications, which is rarely a good thing.
We sometimes hear that executive teams suggest keeping people “out of the loop” or limiting messaging until later in the process. Some are afraid to communicate anything until they have all the answers. Others don’t understand the details, so they end up under communicating along the way. This type of delay can become dangerous and needs to be managed very carefully.
Generally, you will want to communicate early and often, even at the very early stages of a transformation. As soon as people hear rumors or see suits (i.e. consultants) walking around, they will communicate something. It is much better if they are given the appropriate messaging rather than make up their own story and start to create uncontrolled communication paths (i.e. water-cooler talk). We have seen our share of companies struggle with employee gossip and misalignment contributing to ERP failures.
According to any study that has ever been run on communication effectiveness, only a small percentage of people capture the intent of a message on the first attempt. In most cases it can take in excess of 6 or 7 reiterations of the same message. If done correctly, you will have a number of people stating that they “have heard this before,” and this is not a bad thing.
Watch for the tendency to assume that others in the organization know everything that the project team knows. Certain messages may feel redundant to you because you’re closer to the details, but it is highly unlikely that others in your organization are absorbing the same level of detail since they aren’t as intimate with the transformation as you may be. By the time you feel like the team is over-communicating to the rest of the organization, you are probably just starting to scratch the surface of getting the message through to others.
Email is easy and everyone uses it, but email is actually the LEAST effective form of communication for a longer-term initiative such as an ERP implementation. The reason is, we get so many emails on a daily basis that unless they drive an immediate response, they are forgotten and become noise.
We are not suggesting not to use email at all, but consider adding conference calls, in-person meetings, newsletters (yes, actual paper), flyers, town halls, road shows, skywriting (just checking if you are awake), etc. These multiple forms of communication will hit different people in different ways and provide variance to keep people interested. It might also be worthwhile to consider branding (naming) the initiative so that all communications follow the same branding.
People respond differently when the CEO releases a message than they do when they receive something from HR, IT, or someone they don’t even know. Use this to your advantage. The key here is to vary who delivers what type of messaging, and to make sure the message stays consistent as it is being relayed through all levels of the organization. This also helps demonstrate and reinforce executive alignment, which is a critical prerequisite to implementation success.
Finally, what do you put into the messaging and what level of information is needed? This will, of course, vary by the group being communicated to and what is coming next. The base rule is don’t provide more detail than is needed to the general audience. If communication is direct and impactful, people are more likely to continue reading and responding.
If you remember nothing else when creating a message, consider WIIFM (what’s in it for me). This is ALL that most people will really care about. How does this initiative impact and help them on a personal and professional level.