Change Management – the challenge of communications in an age of short attention spans by Ron Leeman

I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before but I’ll repeat it for the sake of context…

Communication is key when you want people to change

But in contrast…

Communication is an area that is most frequently complained about by employees

Clearly there is a gap!

As Change Managers one of our first and most important tasks is to create an all-encompassing Communication Plan that must take account of four key factors:

  • Whoever is sending the message must ensure that the message is clear and with the right amount of details.
  • Whoever is receiving the message must make a decision to listen, ask questions and trust the sender of the message.
  • The delivery mechanism must suit the circumstances and the needs of both the sender and the receiver.
  • The message content has to connect on some level with the receiver, should contain information that the individual wants to hear and as far as possible allow the individual to assess the WIIFM factor.

Easy for you to say!

In the good old days, this was kind of easy and we would look at various ways to communicate to ensure the above factors were met e.g.:

Face to Face Communication

  • Departmental Meetings
  • Team/Group Meetings
  • Focus Groups
  • 121 Meetings
  • Roadshows
  • Workshops
  • Lunch and Learns
  • Town Halls

Non Face to Face Communication

  • e-Mails
  • Notice Boards
  • FAQ’s
  • Leaflets & Posters
  • Project Newsletters
  • Intranet
  • Social Media
  • Screen-saver Messages
  • Enterprise Social Networking

But we are in a different place now with the ever-increasing pace of change through digitization, AI, RPA etc so do the above still cut it?

Well, some do but I think others don’t.

ATTENTION SPANS

 

One of the main issues we face today is the amount of information that needs to be disseminated and the multitude of channels we can use to do that. That coupled with our ever-decreasing attention span is a real challenge.

Regarding attention spans, if you haven’t already noticed, in general, they are decreasing. According to a study by Microsoft, the average human being now has an attention span of eight seconds. This is a sharp decrease from the average attention span of 12 seconds in the year 2000. A deluge of short soundbites, messages and social media has created a society that simply won’t look or listen.

So let’s take a look at two ways we can communicate in today’s “short attention span” world to try and grab the interest of people who have a disposition to only want to engage in a “social” way rather than the traditional ways of yesteryear:

SOCIAL MEDIA

Rightly or wrongly this has now become the de-facto way to communicate and anyone who ignores this mechanism does so at their own peril.

Depending on which part of the world you operate in there are the following most popular apps:

 

  • WhatsApp: more than 1.5 billion users worldwide… the most preferred messaging App in the world today and is the primary messenger app in South Africa, Great Britain and South Asia.
  • WeChat: over one billion WeChat users… dominates the Chinese market.
  • Viber: more than one billion users… popular in Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Line: 203 million users worldwide… popular in Asia.
  • Telegram: 200 million users worldwide… primary messenger app in Iran, Uzbekistan and Ethiopia

ENTERPRISE SOCIAL NETWORKING TOOLS

Enterprise social networking software is ideal for teams with members in multiple geographical locations as they can utilize the solution to communicate and collaborate seamlessly from wherever they are based.

Let’s look at three of the most popular tools:

  • Clarizen: creates a line of sight across the enterprise so teams can share goals, increase accountability and drive greater focus. It also increases the effectiveness in supporting different work methods to accelerate execution at the team level while also offering portfolio level progress across the enterprise.
  • Slack: is built around a channel format that allows you to quickly go from asynchronous to synchronous communication, giving you real-time response. Its centralized and searchable archive of messages is made available not just to people on your team today, but also to those who’ll get on board later on.
  • Yammer: brings small, mid-sized, and large teams together, and helps companies boost collaboration and learn how to make the most of their services. The tool provides an open platform for brainstorming and creative ideas, triggers intelligent business solutions, and unifies access to information.

Personally I have used WhatsApp and Yammer extensively but to use an oft quote of mine… it’s all about "horses for courses”.

TRADITIONAL COMMUNICATION

Of course, this is not to say that there isn't a place for the traditional ways of communicating and face-to-face still has to be the preferred mechanism. But that does mean a lot of time and effort, not only from those delivering the messages, but also from the target audience who have to give up their time away from the day-to-day activities to attend Meetings, Town Halls, Workshops, Lunch & Learn’s etc.

But is that a bad thing?

The key is to use as many communication channels as possible because what one person will like another will not. Make sure that the content is appropriate but consistent for each channel. Focus on the level of detail you need to communicate e.g.:

LONG-FORM COMMUNICATIONS

Long-form content provides valuable information to a highly-invested audience that wants to learn more about the change that is happening.

SHORT-FORM COMMUNICATIONS

Short-form content is more mobile-friendly than its long-form counterpart, allowing it to reach more people.

The easier it is to the read, the more likely a short attention spanned consumer will take the time to read it.

THINK ABOUT HEADLINES

Headlines accomplish one of two goals:

1.      Present the most important pieces of information in a five to seven-word headline (sorry I've used 13 in my headline ... LOL).

2.      Give only a snippet of the information, so that the reader is forced to read more.

The strategy you choose to utilize depends on the sensitivity of the information and your overall goal for distributing it. If you want to inform the most people as possible in the shortest amount of time, then the first method applies to you. If you want a moderate amount of people completely informed on the details of the article, then the second method applies.

SURVEY YOUR USERS

Rather than just rely on your own experience or intuition how about surveying your users to ask what their preferred communications channels are. Once you know this you can then structure your Communication Plan accordingly.

IN SUMMARY

Communication is a massive subject so this article forms just a very small part of that but I hope it gives you some food for thought.

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I started work for the UK’s MoD and after completing intensive training at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham (now the UK’s Defence Academy) I worked for them as a Work Study Practitioner, and Organisation and Methods Officer which involved observing people working, making changes to ways of working and then measuring them to determine efficiencies. I call this the forerunner of Change Management. Following the MoD I had a stint with Abbey National BS/Abbey as a Business Analyst, Productivity Consultant and Senior Business Consultant. After Abbey, I started as an Independent Change Management Consultant and worked in many industry sectors but all involving change in some way, shape, or form. I now live in Thailand where I continue my change work such as researching matters of interest concerning change, coaching & mentoring for change management and authoring consulting frameworks and business templates. I still do the odd project in the Region just to keep “my hand in”. In 2012 I was recognised as a Change Leader by the World HRD Congress.