Barriers to communication.

The Biggest Misconception About Change Management

If I had $1.00 for every time I (fill in the blank), I would be rich!

This saying applies to the biggest misconception about change management: communications planning. When meeting with project teams, project managers or others involved in delivering a project, I mention that they should apply change management to the project. Why?

Because the project is creating change to how people work. Largely, the response I receive is, “We’re on it. We have a communications plan already.”

This is the moment I put the proverbial $1.00 and place it in my imaginary jar knowing that I can buy that fictional hot tub someday. Communication plans are NOT change management. Communication plans are a part of change management. Change management encompasses much more than devising a ‘telling plan’ that most communication plans offer. Therefore, I often entitle my own communications plans ‘Communication and Conversation Plan’.

The world is full of information. It starts the moment we open our eyes in the morning until we fall asleep at night. It is estimated that we experience somewhere around 10 million bits of data every second. The average person can only handle 40-50 bits per second.  That means we are very selective in the messages that we will 1) look at, 2) read and 3) internalize. By far, the best form of communication that will ensure that your audience will hear what you need them to hear is in-person, 2-way communication. Therefore, conversations should always be included in your communication plans.

More to Change Management than Communications

Change management should focus on the individuals that will need to change in order for the project benefits to be realized. By concentrating on the following areas when thinking about integrating change management with the next change you implement, you will increase your chances of success.

  1. Sponsorship Plan: Do you have executive level support for this project or change?
  2. Supervisor Plan: Have you thought about the needed resources and tools you will provide to supervisors that will enable them to coach, mentor, and support those being impacted by the change?
  3. Resistance Plan: Have you proactively listed all possible resistance and planned for it?
  4. Training Plan: Will all people being impacted by your change be impacted in the same way? Do you need different training plans for the different groups?
  5. Communication/Conversation Plan: Have you planned push communication AND 2-way conversations that should take place in order to ensure that every individual is aware and has the desire to change?

Change is hard. Change is constant. To make it easier on those that have to change think beyond push communications. The next time you are involved in creating change, take a walk in the shoes of those being impacted and try to understand why they may resist. Who will they need to talk to and about what?  What knowledge will they need to acquire and what messages will they need to hear and understand? Spend more time upfront planning for the people side of the change. As a result, you will experience smoother implementations with your future projects and those that have to change, in order for your project to be successful, will thank you.

Have you been involved in organizational changes? Please share your story about what works and what doesn’t work in the comments below.  

You may also be interested in, Your Toolkit for Change Management or Navigating (Technology) Change Management. The Public Sector Change Practitioner Community of Practice is also a great place to share and learn more about change management.

Michelle Malloy is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She has been a devoted Colorado state employee for nearly 13 years. In that time, she had dedicated herself to being the best steward leader possible, ensuring that everyone and everything left in her care are nurtured and developed in order to provide the best value and service to the citizens of the state of Colorado today and into the future. Michelle’s expertise lies in strategy, program management, project management, change management, process improvement, facilitation and working with people. Michelle believes that people are the government’s #1 asset and the products and services we aim to provide and improve upon would not happen without them. You can read her posts here.

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Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I agree that spending more time upfront planning for the people side of change is huge. It takes time, but it is well worth it and can save time, frustrations and misunderstandings in the long run. I learn by listening, so I try to use that same approach with my colleagues and not only share but listen (without preconceived notions).

Michelle Malloy

Nicole, thank you for your comment! Listening is a skill unto itself and worthy of its own blog post. We do a lot of listening sessions in our work and it truly does provide a lot of information so that we are focusing in on the root cause of any issue. It is key not to assume what the problem is too. Good stuff, Nicole! Thank you!

Avatar photo Blake Martin

Awesome post, Michelle. Piggybacking on Nicole’s comment, I loved your emphasis on spending more time upfront planning. Once you are able to connect with those affected by change and ease their concerns (whether they’re fully realized or not!) and get their blessing or buy-in, you can fully realize the intended changes and keep your project moving.

Michelle Malloy

Thanks, Blake! Yes, I always tell folks that I would rather have ‘all’ my work upfront because if I have unexpected work during or after implementation then I did something wrong. I like that you say, “whether they’re fully realized or not”. Resistance can come from a million places and have a million reasons. Why? Because every INDIVIDUAL is unique. Thinking about it terms of the individual is vital. Thank you so much for commenting and keeping the conversation going!