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Communication: the hidden gem in successful transformation programmes

Studies have shown that effective communication with stakeholders is one of the key drivers for the success of transformation programmes. According to the Project Management Institute, 56% of change projects fail due to ineffective communications*. In addition, 70% of organisational change fails as a result of employee attitudes and management behaviour**.

This is in line with what I have seen over the last decade in many transformation programmes across different sectors such as defence and aerospace, automotive, government organisations and most recently, the energy market. The energy sector is interesting as it grapples with reform to meet the trilemma of climate change, affordability and security, whilst addressing the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) proposals to open-up competition and help customers get a better deal. If handled well, there are many opportunities for innovation and competitive advantage.

During this time, I have observed that in many large transformation programmes, the predominant focus of senior management is on enabling technology, while the communication with employees is neglected. In many cases they carefully plan the definition, acquisition, and implementation of information technology systems, as if the programme's success depended solely on installing the right hardware and software. However, it is the people who are going to use the new technologies who add an unpredictable and complex dimension.

Below are four tips for increased engagement with stakeholders to help ensuring your next transformation programme always has the buy-in it needs to succeed.

  • First of all, it is necessary to develop a communications strategy and plan as early as possible to explain the vision unambiguously and set clear expectations and goals. Care should be taken to tailor the communication approach to different stakeholder groups.
  • Acknowledge that because of human nature, most people are reluctant to change and prefer to stay within their comfort zone, doing things in the same way they have always done. For this reason, it is important to show the benefits that the change will bring, not only to the organisation but also to the individuals. This can be done by appealing to different preferences to head, hand and heart; in other words, logic, the effort to implement and emotional appeals.
  • Make sure you establish a two-way communication approach with stakeholders. It is essential to swiftly address any questions or concerns that they may have before negativity, confusion and low-morale start spreading across the organisation. Feedback sessions, via various methods, should be facilitated and the outputs of these sessions communicated back to the stakeholders to highlight that their input has been considered and acted upon.
  • Finally, remember the need to communicate consistently, ensuring that information is provided periodically using appropriate channels. The messages provided by senior management, line managers and those implementing the changes must be consistent.

People are of course just one element. To implement real change, organisations must take a holistic approach to IT infrastructure, operations, finance etc if they wish to make significant improvements in their performance.

* PMI Pulse Communications. “The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications”, 2013.

** McKinsey & Company. “The inconvenient truth about change management: Why it isn't working and what to do about it”, 2008.