When communicating change—especially big, complicated change—would you fire off a few emails and cross your fingers that employees understand what to do? Inspiring confidence in a change and motivating employees to take action is tough work. It requires a change communication plan that will help you manage your efforts and set expectations for key stakeholders. The best change communication plans map objectives, strategies, key messages, roles and tactics.

When it’s time to create your change communication plan, details are often fuzzy. Communicators have to ask tough questions, so there is a complete picture of the change. Ask these six questions to ensure your plan aligns with the organization’s goals and employees’ information needs.

What exactly will change?

This may seem obvious, but without knowing what will change—from high-level goals to down-in-the-weeds details—your plan will fall flat. As a communicator, it’s important to understand what the change means to employees by speaking with the experts and colleagues who are leading the change. Try to distill all of the information they supply to answer the question: What’s one thing employees need to do differently or understand?

Occasionally, you may run up against one interesting road block, the change (or changes) won’t be decided until later in the project. Focus on uncovering the process and timing for key decisions. And consider documenting several scenarios so your plan can accommodate decisions as they’re made.

Who will the change impact?

How you target your change communication efforts will depend on how the change affects employees overall and specific groups. The most effective change communication plans tailor messages and tactics based on role, location or department.

As a communicator, it’s your job to understand impact and segment your audience. For example, if you’re introducing a new IT system, you would likely divide your audience into three groups:

  • Those who use the system every day and require in-depth knowledge
  • Those who use parts of the system occasionally
  • Those who don’t use the system, but should be aware of it and how it benefits the organization

When will the change happen?

While this sounds simple, a big change usually includes many moving parts. Create a timeline that shows when work streams start and end, how work will be phased, and when key milestones are expected.

What will employees need to know, believe and do as a result of this change?

Having clear objectives will help you shape your communication tactics and measure the success of your efforts. It’s time to dive into the details and understand what each group or team needs to do or know.

Work with your change leaders to map communication objectives for each segment of your audience. The know/believe/do approach can make it easier for colleagues to articulate objectives: What topics do employees need to know? How will their beliefs or attitudes change? What actions do you want employees to take?

What channels are available to communicate change?

Take an inventory of existing employee communication channels and determine how to leverage them to achieve your communication objectives. Consider that you’ll need a mix: channels that create awareness (such as: email, posters and intranet articles) and those that will build in-depth knowledge (such as: workshops, Q&A sessions and online learning modules).

And note those channels that are missing. For example, do you need a new channel that is dedicated to the change: A microsite or a weekly call among leaders?

What does success look like?

Sit down with the CEO or work stream leads and ask: How will we know the change is complete? What are the measures we will track? How often will we report on progress?

Answers to these questions will help you plan recognition moments and demonstrate progress.

Creating a change communication plan is no easy task. But taking a step back and asking these fundamental questions will help you deliver a communication plan that makes change stick.

Author: Alison Davis is founder and CEO of Davis & Company, the award-winning employee communication firm that for 30 years has helped leading companies – such as Johnson & Johnson, Motorola Solutions, Nestle, Roche and Rogers Communications – increase employee engagement. Alison sets strategic direction for the firm, consults with clients on their toughest communication challenges, assists them on change communication plans, and leads development of new products and services. Follow @AlisonBDavis on Twitter.

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