The best channels for change communication

Press Release from Davis & Company

best comms channels

Your communication plan for that next big change initiative is well underway. You defined objectives, set key messages, and captured impacts by audience. (Nicely done!) Now it’s time to select channels and you have a few questions swirling in your head: Do I need a new channel? Should I rely on email? If I post on the intranet, will employees read it? Do I need to engage leaders or managers?

While selecting the best tactics to communicate a change may not be rocket science, there is an easy way to frame options so you put the right channels to work.

Let’s start by defining the main categories of communication channels (or tactics) that are used for change communication:

  • Core channels: These are channels maintained by your organization (usually by the communication team) to help employees stay up to speed on key topics. For example, the quarterly email from the CEO, newsletter/digest, email, town hall meetings, intranet posts/stories, digital signage, and social posts (such as Viva Engage/Yammer).
  • Custom channels: Occasionally, it will be necessary to create a channel that is focused on your change initiatives, such as a newsletter, microsite, or regular meeting. These channels usually run for the life of a change initiative but require constant new content, so they remain useful.
  • One-off channels: These channels are also focused on your change but are produced for one-time use, such as a how-to guide or workshop for managers.

With these categories in mind, I use a simple framework to help me quickly identify and select the most appropriate channels. There are three levels to my channel-selection framework — each tied to a communication objective:

1. Establish awareness

2. Build insight

3. Drive action

The core principle behind this framework? There are channels that work best at each level. For example, email and digital signage are good awareness tools, but they won’t drive action. Let’s dive into each level.

1. Channels that establish awareness

This is often the starting point for any change communication effort — building awareness of the initiative, including vision/goals, plan, and timeline. If you’re successful, employees will acknowledge the change is on their radar. You might hear them say something like, “Yes, I heard we have a new business strategy.”

Since awareness is the simplest communication objective to achieve, it follows you won’t need sophisticated channels. The focus at this level is one-way channels that are quick to deliver and easy for employees to consume: email, newsletters, intranet posts, postcards, digital signage/posters, and mentions at all-employee or team meetings.

It’s likely you’ll use a combination of these channels since not all employees will have the same access to each channel. For example, manufacturing employees may not use email or have regular access to the intranet, but they browse posters in the break room.

A real-world example. When we helped the finance group at a pharmaceutical company migrate to a new system, we started with the basics: a core deck for meetings, email, digital signs, and a one-page flyer — all designed to reinforce the scope of the change, benefits, and go-live date.

2. Channels that build insight

When your communication objective is insight, it’s time for your channels to work harder. Channels at this level are designed to help employees build knowledge. They’re typically one-way tools that support self-guided learning and may be developed specifically for the change initiative (that is, not part of the core channels used across the organization). Here are a few examples: videos, brochures/guides, intranet pages or microsites, and presentations.

When you’re successful in building insight, employees may say, “I can answer questions about this initiative, including how it applies to me.”

A real-world example. Back to the new financial system. After creating awareness tools, we developed tactics that helped stakeholders (senior leaders, team leaders, and change champions) build their knowledge of the system and play their communication roles; for example, a dashboard for senior leaders, a toolkit for team leaders, and training for change champions. We also developed tactics for all employees: a dedicated SharePoint page and roadshow.

3. Channels that drive action

When you need employees (or specific groups) to do something differently, email won’t cut it. Interaction is required. At this level, you’ll invest more time creating channels and employees will spend more time using them. After you deploy tactics designed to drive action, employees may say, “I understand what I need to do” or, “Yes, I completed that task differently than I used to, and I understand the benefit.”

These channels are designed to encourage questions and discussion and help employees try new ways of working. Here are examples: Ask Me Anything sessions, workshops, training, manuals, problem-solving sessions, and challenge exercises/games.

A real-world example. With the new financial system, channels at this level were especially important since there were many technical details for specific audiences to learn. They included in-person and web-based training, check-ins with change champions, manuals, and hypercare support (a call center devoted to employees).

Other factors to consider when selecting channels

While aligning channels to communication objectives (my three-level framework) is a helpful way to short-circuit channel selection, there are additional factors that may influence your choices:

  • Type of change: With a technical change, you’ll likely need channels that are focused on instruction and guidance, such as how-to videos and workshops. While organizational changes will need channels that help employees internalize what the change means, such as Q&A with their team leaders, success stories, and an easy-to-understand vision/plan.
  • Impact: Will the change impact everyone the same way, or will some groups experience it differently? By targeting channels to specific segments of employees, you’ll deliver relevant and useful communication. But if you send that how-to manual to everyone, employees may react with, “This doesn’t apply to me,” making it harder to break through with future communication.
  • Timing: Will the change happen over several years? Or is it a two-month initiative? When you have a long-term change initiative, it’s worth investing in purpose-built, ongoing channels, such as a dedicated microsite.
  • Engagement: Will employees be involved in defining the change (or parts of it)? Or will the plan be set by a core team? If you can include tactics that involve employees in the change, you’ll supercharge employees’ knowledge and help change stick.

Want to learn more about change communication? Download our book: Change communication made easy: How to help employees embrace change.


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