Stephen Harvard Davis offers up some strong advice on how best to communicate change in the complex world of call centres. One of the most difficult challenges for management is getting people to understand and to voluntarily work towards organisational objectives. This is particularly true of call centres where necessary shift systems and an emphasis on personal productivity make the concept of a team approach to work more difficult.
Communicating organisational objectives is difficult at the best of times because, like so much human activity, communication when done badly is always open to misinterpretation.
In every organisation there are usually two types of communication systems – the formal and the informal. At times both will be sending the same message and at others they will be in conflict. Experienced managers ensure that, when communicating change, the same message is carried by both the formal and informal channels.
Whatever channel you use, however, communication must be recognised as a two-way process. Feedback is essential – particularly if the changes being proposed are difficult to understand, threatening or if it’s essential that the changes are correctly implemented.
It is very rare that management will have thought through the changes in such a way as to have total meaning and understanding for those at lower levels. As a result, the purpose of the changes may be misunderstood or confusing to others, and there needs to be a mechanism whereby people can indicate their confusion and concerns.
Remember too that staff will have their own way of dealing with their worries. The grapevine, for instance, is a fact of life in every organisation. Managers will often be frustrated by the speed and effectiveness of it. However, it must be accepted that the grapevine will bypass chains of command, flow down heating pipes and corridors and will enter wherever people meet in groups. The grapevine is after all used by people wanting to make sense of what is happening to them.
There are ways of using the grapevine to best advantage when it comes to communicating change, though. Alert managers can keep ahead by talking with the 10% of employees that are the most active participants and ensuring they are supplied with the correct message. The key thing to remember is that you should never try to stifle the grapevine. The simple fact is that you won’t.
Top tips on communicating a cunning plan
So, you’ve recognised that communication takes a number of forms. Just how do you go about communicating your business’s plans?
When management devises a cunning plan to increase productivity or reduce costs, it inevitably means change. And it’s a fact that all change is seen to benefit some and not others.
Too many managers approach communication as sending an e-mail ‘telling the team what to do’ or manipulating them into doing things that will probably be unpopular. The result is that the message is either not given the thought and attention it deserves, or is presented in such a way that it looks like overkill.
This is made more difficult in a 24/7 operation, where shifts change throughout the day and where one has to ensure that the same message is being delivered to, and understood by, everyone concerned.
The first rule is that, for a message to be accepted without too much disruption, people have to trust the messenger – that is, the management. If management has a reputation and a track record for listening as well as instructing, for honesty as opposed to manipulation, and for fairness, then most messages will be easy to communicate – even the more unpopular ones. If the opposite is true, then communication difficulties will increase.
Then there comes the question of how much communication is appropriate. The rule here is that routine communication should accompany routine change and where complex change is required, then lots of communication needs to happen. This might seem obvious, but it’s a fact that too much communication over routine change will cause confusion while too little communication only serves to create an atmosphere of suspicion.
Although we have complete control over what is said and how it is communicated, we must always remember that it will be our audience that decides what is meant. Therefore if we are to communicate well, we have to think through our message and understand how will it be interpreted.
To help you along, why not try implementing the following nine-point checklist?
1) Anticipate those that might resist the change and the reasons for it by putting yourself in their shoes.
2) Demonstrate how the change is advantageous over previous ways of working.
3) Don’t make the audience out to be wrong or stupid.
4) Tell the audience how and when they will benefit from the change.
5) Show that the change is directly related to the strategic direction being taken by the company and is in response to customer need or preference.
6) Discuss how the change will be altered if it doesn’t work.
7) Choose which communication channel to use. Will the change be communicated at a meeting, via e-mail, on the notice-board, or in a newsletter?
8)Encourage feedback. People tend to be naturally creative and feedback is likely to generate small – and sometimes large – improvements to the original change.
9) Consider having a sheet of frequently asked questions (FAQs) which demonstrates that people’s questions have been considered. Alternatively, consider putting together a pictorial illustration of the change and how it will take effect. This should take the form of a series of pictures, much like a comic strip, with detailed explanations attached to each picture. Such communication is being adopted in the health service and other organisations as an effective way to deliver new processes.
Finally, remember that it’s critical you ‘walk the talk’ as a manager. It’s important that when talking about change, you demonstrate that you are the first to implement it in a consistent manner. The following points should help you along the way:
- If the change involves quality, then ensure that the communication is of a high quality with clear and concise explanations and illustrations. If it involves changes in practice, then think of introducing a new way of receiving feedback.
- Tell everybody that the changes may bring difficulties for individuals and that while you have tried to consider most of the obvious problems, people are free to voice concerns as not every eventuality can have been thought of.
- Ensure that if the message is to be cascaded down the organisation, those doing so are trained appropriately.
- Telling everyone once about change may be, but mostly isn’t, enough to make it happen. Simply placing instructions on the company intranet advising people of the change may not be enough – particularly if there is a vague instruction that people should read the intranet each day. Therefore communicating change needs to have a momentum that encourages and guides people towards the goals that are required. Having said that, nagging should be avoided at all costs.
- Don’t be offended by feedback. If you believe that two heads are better than one, then a whole group of heads – all contributing to creating change for the better – must be a good thing.
Stephen Harvard Davis is a consultant specialising in business relationships and author of “Why do 40% of Executives Fail?” www.assimilating-talent.com/