Businesses which do not prepare themselves for change do so at their own peril. That is why progressive business organizations not only adopt themselves to change, but in fact anticipate change and be in a state of preparedness to respond quickly and effectively. They are not merely reactive, but indeed proactive. The dynamics of change is a reality and certainty that every market player has to recognize and factor in their functioning. Business communicators should be well aware of this dimension. When we talk of change management here, we are referring to not the minor everyday happenings, but rather the major changes that impact the entire organization. Such changes relate to the structure, systems and processes, product designs, markets covered and people-related approaches.
Reorganization, restructuring and reengineering or what is known as business process reengineering (BPR) are some of the major initiatives relating to change management. All these endeavour to bring about conscious changes and improvements in processes, methods and approaches that are widely prevalent within the organization. Old methods, approaches and processes are discarded and new ones are introduced in their place.
People across the organization, at all levels, are likely to be affected in the process. This type of change initiatives need to be effectively managed. Communication plays a key role in driving such change management efforts. Communication becomes the vehicle on which change management initiatives move and reach out. Communication is the means by which people working in organizations reach out to their colleagues, customers, suppliers and all stakeholders.
Larger and more diverse the people to be covered, greater would be the role of communication. Business communicators will have to plan and implement appropriate and varied strategies keeping in view the target sections to be covered. For this to be effective, communicators need to interact closely with the decision-making and change-driving teams so as to understand the communication needs. Such communication, by its very nature, has to be quite intense and well organized. Communication- related challenges would be in tandem with the change management challenges.
The complex process of change management often involves the efforts of change agents, cheerleaders, opinion makers, etc., to explain, convince, articulate and demonstrate the need for and benefits of change. Both oral and written channels of communication may have to be used fully. Meetings, workshops, demonstrations, audio-visual presentations, group discussions and talks will have to be used as a part of the oral communication strategy.
Word-of-mouth communication is extremely important in driving change management. Similarly written communication, circulars, newsletters, notice board bulletins, top management communication, case study discussions and experience sharing are methods that can be gainfully deployed. In any major effort involving change management, apart from spoken and written communication, the other dimension, viz., the non-verbal communication too assumes significance. Appropriate body language of the top management team, presence of senior management functionaries and department heads in all important meetings, gestures, postures and facial expressions should reinforce the verbal and written messages. The top management functionaries should consistently drive home the message that the changes being put in place are important, well thought out and deserve sincere implementation. Flow of communication in the context of change management should be top down as well as lateral.
Opinion makers, change agents and others who matter need to communicate adequately and effectively. Similarly, while people within the organization who are driving the change need to communicate effectively, those who are implementing the change and are impacted by the change should listen attentively and get their apprehensions removed and doubts classified. Communication, accordingly, should cut across all layers and reach out to every nook and corner. Change management, thus, becomes effective when it is well supported by appropriate communication strategies. Quite often, the process of change management may be long and sustained. Major change management initiatives may be taken up in phases and may extend over a period of months and years. Communication strategy should appropriately address all the facets, viz.
, (1) before the change (2) during the change implementation and (3) after the change. The results and benefits relating to the change initiatives have to be adequately highlighted through communication strategies. In sum, the business communicator needs to note that communication has a vital role to play in ensuring the success of the change management programme. Effectively planned and implemented communication strategies are a must for making the change management process smooth, time bound and result oriented.