There are many critical success factors for a project – one of the biggest is communications. Countless projects have failed tremendously not because they were poorly designed or executed, but rather because communication was not a priority. It is not just communicating that a project is occurring; it is effectively communicating what is happening, when it is happening, how it is happening and most importantly, how the project impacts the people involved. If you follow the best practices of Organizational Change Management (OCM), you want to communicate as early and as often as possible.
So what happens when a limitation or restriction is thrown into the mix? For example, what happens when you are not able to distribute written communications to your project team? That is when you need to get creative and try different approaches.
Understanding the Competitive Environment
Let’s take a step back – why wouldn’t you want to distribute written communications? It’s a competitive marketplace and every company is trying to develop the next big technology to spring them in front of their competition – unfortunately for the OCM Practitioner, to get the upper hand on competition you often need to better control the flow of information as long as possible. On a recent project we faced this challenge.
A large Midwest Bank was undertaking a technology implementation that fundamentally changed how their employees did their job and for many, what their job was moving forward. If done right, this technology would provide the bank the necessary competitive advantage to become a top-player in their industry. With so much dependent on being the first in their marketplace to offer this differentiated technology, we were instructed to not send written communications that could potentially end up in competitor’s hands. The precedent was set – and we used a vast array of channels to effectively communicate with the entire company without writing anything down. This continued until the technology was just a month away from go-live. So what did we do?
Leveraging the Change Network & Key Leaders:
A Change Network is a group of engaged stakeholders and leaders whose role is to raise awareness about the project and build internal support for the project ahead of the change. For our project, these individuals were one of our most effective means of communicating to the entire company. We leveraged the Change Network Members throughout the project to verbally communicate about the project via the following avenues:
- Department Meetings – One to two hour sessions led by department leads focused on what change is coming and how it will impact each department specifically
- Change Network Member (e.g., “Change Champion”) – Made themselves available to other employees on a daily basis to discuss the change and answer questions. These members also helped establish two-way communication between end users and the project team
- Day-in-the-Life Road Show – Two hour sessions to help each employee understand how their role will be different in the future
- Monthly CEO Forums – Thirty Minute meetings where the CEO highlighted the project and discussed key functionality developed within the past month and its benefit internally and for customers. These served to keep people informed and to reiterate the importance of the overall project
We also leveraged technology as much as possible to help gain employee awareness throughout the project:
- Demos – Utilizing WebEx and conference calls, it was possible to provide system demos every two weeks to key business and IT stakeholders in both the home and remote office locations
- Bi-Weekly Conference Calls – Fifteen minute conference calls led by the Senior Project Manager and Sponsor to discuss project progression, key questions and next steps
- Monitor Communications – Scattered across offices, TVs were used to display key functionality developed over the past week, timeline, support options and FAQs
So what did this mean for the company and effectiveness of communications? In surveys conducted prior to go-live, 9 out of 10 people said that they understood the project objectives, scope, vision and key impacts to them. This demonstrates that, though unconventional, the non-written communication methods and channels used were highly successful.
While we will not always face the challenge of not being able to send written communications, there is something to be said about continuing to be agile, adaptive and creative in how we communicate with organizations that are undergoing impactful change. We would encourage you to try leveraging the above communication methods, as well as implementing some of your own, to effectively communicate when restrictions or limitations exist.