1 June 2009 • 8:58 am

Planning Change Communication – Part I

Organizations planning a change program using Balanced Scorecard (BSC) quite logically focus their efforts on the mechanics of the BSC itself; identifying a leadership team, developing a strategy map, selecting measures for each objective appearing on the strategy map, reporting on those measures, and engaging the leadership team in a BSC-based strategic management process. Often overlooked, but of equal importance to the success of the change program is planning and effecting the communication of strategy and performance across the organization.

Working with a client back in 2001, I constructed a framework for planning communication around strategy. Over the course of several engagements with a variety of client organizations, my colleagues and I were able to refine this framework, and prove its effectiveness. We also learned a lesson from our clients; upon reflection they all said that given the chance to do it all again, they would have started earlier and invested more time in their strategy communications programs.

At the core of the framework is a sequence of five messages that are shared with every member of the stakeholder community for the strategy. While it is easy to see that employees are at the center of the stakeholder community, they don’t necessarily define the entire community. Defining and segmenting the audience for strategy communication program is the subject of the next post on the topic of communication planning.

In short, the five messages are:

  1. We need to change
  2. Our vocabulary of strategy
  3. This is our strategy
  4. Our strategic performance
  5. Your role in achieving our objectives

The ‘A’ message (Our need to change) needs to come from the credible leadership of the organization, and must create the sense of urgency needed to break through the natural complacency and resistance to change in the stakeholder community. Most challenging about the ‘A’ message is grabbing and holding the attention of an audience whose fatigue with inspirational messages from the organization’s leaders may result in low reach and retention of the message.

The ‘B’ message (Our vocabulary of strategy) introduces the concepts and terms that the organization will use to describe its strategy. An important part of developing this message is to understand the language of change in use in the organization. There may be a variety of terms used to describe a strategy, a strategic objective, a target, performance measurement, etc. While the BSC discipline prescribes standard terms for these concepts; it is most important to present a language that will be clear and unambiguous, consistently used across the organization, and accessible to every member of the stakeholder community. Embedded in the ‘B’ message is a subtext; “We know what we’re doing” that is essential if the leadership’s track record in driving change is poor. The ‘B’ message is especially challenging in very large organizations whose sub-cultures and local vocabularies may be invisible to those planning the communications.

The ‘C’ message (This is our strategy) is at the heart of the communication program. Although it can revolve around a BSC strategy map, some organizations choose to present their strategy in a way that is less intimidating than a complete BSC strategy map or other technique may be to those new to the idea of strategy. Organizations skipping the ‘A’ and ‘B’ messages in their haste to present the ‘C’ message will be met with apathy and limited comprehension of the strategy itself. The ‘C’ message benefits most from repetition; introduced by senior leaders, reinforced by mid-level management, and referenced through a variety of channels such as company intranet, newsletters, posters, etc. A key to the success of the ‘C’ message is finding ways to engage stakeholders in the message content, so that they internalize and understand the content of the strategy itself.

The ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ messages can be introduced and reinforced early in the change program; once the strategy itself has been agreed to by the leadership team. But the ‘D’ message (Our strategic performance) plays out over time. In its most basic form, the ‘D’ message consists of sharing the BSC measures and targets with members of the stakeholder community, but the effectiveness of the ‘D’ message is enhanced by carefully packaging it in the context of frank leadership reviews of performance successes and shortcomings. The ‘D’ message changes as actual performance is recorded, and is typically shared with stakeholders on a quarterly timetable. 

The ‘E’ message (Your role in achieving our objectives) is the vital link between the organization and the individual. In some cases, the ‘E’ message is appropriately targeted at groups or teams of stakeholders whose contributions are similar; but more often the ‘E’ message is integrated and imbedded in the performance planning relationship between each employee and his or her immediate supervisor. Delivering the ‘E’ message effectively requires careful coordination with existing management processes and structures, such as the HR organization.

Often, those planning strategy communication are inclined to skip the careful planning of messages described here, and jump quickly to selecting communication channels (“let’s make a video!”) without also carefully considering the need to understand and segment the stakeholder community so as to target messages effectively. The necessary task of audience analysis and segmentation is covered in the next post on the topic of communication planning.

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