The Death of Project Comms?

It’s took me a while to get around to writing my next blog, over four months in fact! It’s not felt like that long, but I guess time flies when you’re having fun? Although I can’t say all the sleepless nights and changing of nappies can really be labelled fun, but hey ho. We have a new member of the Eley Gang, that’s the main thing, and one who seems to have inherited his dad’s appetite to go with his passion for bopping his hands up and down to some late nineties and early noughties classics!

Now I had a whole list of blog topics to choose from, as I’ve been adding to my list far quicker than I’ve been writing blogs, so I’ve decided to pick one which is quite relevant to some work I’ve been doing over the past few weeks, which again popped up last Friday when Microsoft came over to risual to host an Artificial Intelligence Envisioning workshop.

How often is it that a great idea, project or change initiative gets stopped in its tracks, usually by an individual’s resistance. Or a group of individuals resisting?

“that won’t work for us”

“our users won’t like that”

“that’s too complex”

“I don’t see the benefit”

The common theme here is that in most of these cases, the viewpoint of the individual or group is largely based around perception or assumptions;

When they say it won’t work, has it been trialled?

When they say users won’t like it, have they been engaged, input into the requirements or helped shape/refine the solution?

When it’s too complex, does the organisation have the right training approach, is self-development for employees encouraged or incentivised?

What about benefits, were these properly thought out and documented? Have they been communicated? Are they tailored for users?

There’s no point telling an end user the new platform they’re using is solely being done to reduce operational costs, how does that benefit them? Which brings me on to project communications. It’s about time we retired this historical way of thinking. When I think of project comms, I think of one directional communications, usually distributed through few channels and containing non-refined detail or information.

“Your mailbox is being migrated to <insert tech name> on dd/mm/yyyy. Mail services may be unavailable between hh:mm and hh:mm. Please contact your local administrator or the service desk if you have any concerns or experience any issues”.

“yaaaaaawn”

Change Resistance is the number 1 blocker for strategic change initiatives. Change Fatigue isn’t too far behind. Established, consummate business engagement is imperative to achieving successful change in an organisation and this comprises of two key things:

1)    Interactive communications.

2)    Knowledge and ability.

It is important to understand that people don’t just like being told something and left to it. They certainly don’t like feeling uninformed, nor can someone generate confidence to any degree without having an understanding of the subject matter in question. Why do so many organisations still look at training and communications as separate areas, like the two don’t go hand in hand?

So what is an interactive communication? It’s not just providing information but generating interest, developing an understanding and giving assurances. It’s “engaging” with people. Not just sending communications via one or two channels, such as over email, but providing videos, face to face discussions, marketing, drop in sessions, roadshows and events. It’s a two-way exchange of communication and feedback.

And how can you create knowledge and ability? Firstly, by creating a need or generating an interest. Secondly, by reassuring users and gradually providing training and capabilities to consume those solutions or changes being implemented. This isn’t just a one size fits all approach either. Some people learn kinaesthetically (by doing), some auditory (by listening), some are able to absorb information from a visual experience whilst others feel a need to read and write down the detail, sometimes multiple times over. This must be factored in to the training approach to ensure you can effectively engage with users. Proper training will always instil confidence in users once they feel comfortable enough and have a resolute understanding of how something works.

It’s also worth noting that there are conflicting views on learning styles and the above is just a short list of what I view as being the most common. Some experts note four core styles, some seven and others note other quantities usually in between the two. So long as your engagement model is flexible in its approach to learning styles, you should be successful with increasing adoption rates across user bases.

I speak regularly about users being people, being individuals and I only use the term “Business Engagement” now when touching on anything comms, training and adoption related. If you factor in that we’re talking about people and individuals, along with the true meaning of engagement as below, there’s one recurring theme:

Comms engagement dictionary extract

Engagement is personal. If you participate, or partake, it’s safe to assume there’s an element of personification involved. Typical project communications don’t really exist anymore, especially in an era of short coffee catch ups, Skype meetings and social media. Personalised engagement with your users is the only way to successfully implement change initiatives and transformational projects and programmes. This means each user needs to feel that you’ve reached out to them individually and that their voice is heard!

On a side note, if you’re ever thinking of sending project communications addressed to “dear user” or something similar, please don’t! Why not try something like a mail merge so at least the same blanket email will be addressed to each individual. That’s a good place to start 😉.

Comms Learning Video pic

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2 thoughts on “The Death of Project Comms?

  1. Some interesting and valid points Chris – but I’d suggest that some of this resolves to something more fundamental and simpler – language. The word logic comes from the Greek word “logos” which is also used interchangeably for “language” – my point is that whatever the problem or whatever the technical implementation, if you use language that makes the problem / solution sound complex, people “switch-off” (your change resistance point.) Trying to deal with complex things all the time makes people’s brains hurt (your change fatigue.) Einstein supposedly said “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough” – IT practitioners should take note. Our profession is full of people who are “nearly clever” who use complex language to make themselves look “really clever”

    Congratulations on the new addition to the family BTW

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    1. Thanks for your response Doug. I definitely agree with your point. Language is extremely important in the process. One of the key flaws seems to be that the communications make sense to those in the Programme, who are obviously already familiar with everything going on. Those receiving the communications cold don’t necessarily have the same understand and some of the IT language used will go completely over some users’ heads. It’s vitally important that the Programme has heavy engagement and interaction with a subset of the organisation who aren’t part of the core programme team and are not IT users. They should be the first point for vetting the collateral released.

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