Change communication: why it’s time to ditch “what’s in it for me”

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

You have to answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ question,” I hear it all the time when discussing change communication.

The problem with that question is that it implies that there is something in for the stakeholder and let’s be honest, sometimes there just isn’t.

This focus on ‘positivity’ can also be a blocker for those managing stakeholder engagement. It was brought home to me when I was working with a team in a Government organisation that was about to go through a period of change. The conversation with the leadership team around the communication approach was halted when one of them stated that they “couldn’t possibly sell this to their team”. It made me realise that this is what managers and leaders in the organisation thought they had to do – make everyone feel positive about what was going to happen.

Ultimately of course, we want stakeholders to feel positive but this isn’t a mood that can be created simply by trying to “sell” a message.

Thinking positively about a change and the organisation that is delivering it is more likely to come about through the following:

  • Accurate information
  • Timely information
  • Genuine two-way dialogue.

So, let’s think about each of those in turn.

Accuracy: Accurate information sounds easy but in times of change can be hard to achieve. It isn’t that people don’t want to tell the truth, but that truth can change. Complex programmes and projects will shift in terms of scope and timing. The challenge for the communicator is keep up with the changes and make sure that those who need to know are kept informed. If you are a project manager, check that you have your communication lead in the change request process so that he or she has early site of changes and can comment from a communication perspective. Importantly, it also means that the communication message and activity can be prepared.

A failure to do this can result in suspicion and cynicism among stakeholders. I like the “Say Do” matrix and use it a lot to help projects understand why communication matters and particularly why it is important to keep people up to date when things change.

Read more: the full version of this article is published in the PM World Journal.

My book Communicating Projects is published by Routledge.