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Burn Your Communication Plan

We all know how hard change can be. Whether we like to admit it or not, every one of us performs at least some parts of our jobs on auto-pilot; it's more efficient for our brains to operate that way. That makes it hard to do things differently.

When leaders introduce a significant change without a lot of communication around what will be different, why it's happening (including connecting it to something that matters to each member of the team), and how the change will unfold, they shoot themselves in the foot. They inevitably encounter a lot of friction if not downright resistance to the change. In the best case, this slows things down. In the worst, this has led to multi-million dollar failures. (For excellent content on project failures and how to avoid them, see Michael Krigsman's blog.)

CIOs have learned this lesson the hard way, and it's become pretty standard to accompany major rollouts with an explicit communication plan. Given the amount of change going on today, some CIOs have hired their own communications director, team or outside agency to manage this process. This is good - but it's not enough.

Digital transformation has escalated the change CIOs and their business partners have to manage from a series of disconnected events to a rolling-thunder phenomenon -- big, disruptive and seemingly endless. Relying only on a traditional communication campaign in this environment is like trying to pilot a modern ship through the Straits of Hormuz with only a compass.

When you're in the midst of rolling-thunder change, it's essential is to cultivate a culture of transparency and openness. This starts with cutting through traditional hierarchy to create direct lines of communication between company leaders and the rest of the organization. Everyone involved (your IT leaders, business analysts, developers and operations staff) should understand how a particular change fits into the bigger picture and then use every contact with those affected to promote and illuminate not only what's happening but why. Team members should have the opportunity to ask questions and get more information. Think dialogue, not monologue.

Social media is a great tool for change; it's a pity more leaders don't take advantage of it.

Continue to work on your messaging - make it clear and relevant to your audience. But realize that digital transformation requires more than intellectual understanding through the right message; it requires emotional buy-in and cultural change that only comes about by taking a very different approach. When in doubt, err on the side of sharing more than you're comfortable with. Encourage questions and be ready to respond. Things are changing too fast to rigidly adhere to a carefully crafted plan.

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