5 key pitfalls to avoid in your change management communications plan

Posted by David Miller


Communication during change is often seen as one of the easiest things to do.  But it is also one of the easiest things to do wrong.  If you have been following us for a while you will know that we are strong advocates of collecting and using change management data during change, you could call it big data for change management.  We use data to learn and improve how change management is implemented.

Through our Communication Effectiveness Assessment (CEA) tool, we have been able to analyze assessment data from over 18 industries, and over 1000 data points.

We found that the top risks in change management communication effectiveness across these industries, and across various change projects, are fairly consistent:


In our experience, we have found that it takes more than one simple change to overcome risks to effective change management communication.  In fact, we have seen over again that there are 5 main issues which, once addressed, help mitigate these risks. 

Issue 1: Over use of presentation slides and emails

Change agents are often far too fond of slides and emails which go unopened or are skim-read at best.  Over the last 25 years we have yet to meet a single person who has read an emailed presentation and been motivated and engaged with the change.  Have you?

At best presentations are seen as a necessary evil. Their over-use springs from a mindset that if you put the case as logically as possible then people, being rational, will buy into it and take the appropriate set of actions.  But people aren’t always rational, especially where change is involved.

If people aren’t reading, then they are not getting the information they need to fully understand the change, and the personal implications of that change.

Issue 2: Relying on one-way communication

Many organizational cultures have become heavily reliant on written communication, something which goes directly against the human need for dialogue. We respond to two-way communication, so finding a way to open up conversation is a crucial step to creating engagement around your change.

Use face-to-face, two-way communication wherever possible. People value dialogue and conversation. It takes much longer than email but is infinitely more effective.  It also allows you to answer questions raised immediately.

Think outside the box, and outside formal meetings.  Informal settings are great for encouraging dialogue, questions and engagement around the topic. 

Issue 3: Only talking from your perspective

Along with the emails and presentations, too many change communications are only crafted from the writer’s perspective.  You might not realize it, but you are likely using language and acronyms that people in different areas of the business do not understand. 

Tailor messages to the receiver’s perspective.  People at different levels, and in different parts of an organization can also see the issues differently.  This can be because of different interests, history, culture or experiences.  

What people need and expect can also vary depending on their career stage: for example, those just out of college may need a different communication style to those nearing retirement.  It is your job to speak to those differences.

If you can connect to them you have an opportunity to get your message across.

Issue 4: Not getting the executives on board and co-creating communication

It is tempting to try and be efficient and develop the change plan and communications yourself and present out to your executive team and change sponsors.  It feels like a good use of your time and theirs.  But they will have no buy-in to the plan and the communication approach.  You may get great indicators of support at that initial meeting, but you are likely to find yourself all alone when it comes to delivery. 

People need to hear that top leadership is on board with the change.  If your executive team is only paying lip-service to the change, or only using scripted talking points, your change messages lose credibility and people do not trust what is being said.

The more executives take an active role in building the plan the more likely they are to take an active role in delivering it, and believe in the actions and messages themselves.  This doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process and can be done expertly and quickly.

 Issue 5: Not seeking feedback, or worse not acting on feedback

Seek feedback and, where possible, take it on board.  One of our clients had a global roll-out of a change a few years ago. It was cascaded through the regions to the different countries. Two weeks later an agency telephoned a sample of front-line workers in each country to ask them what they knew about the change.

This survey provided a wealth of information on where countries had successfully communicated change. The countries that had not were then asked to redeliver the communication and were given coaching to help them be more effective.

Find out how well your change management communication strategy is working by using the Communication Effectiveness Assessment (CEA) tool.  One of our change impact assessment templates, we are giving exclusive access for our readers here.

Or tap into the real power of big data in change management by comparing your results with those from other change projects, from around the globe; available to subscribers to our Roadmap Pro platform.  Use big data to make your change more effective.

Try the tool


Tags: Change management data

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