Saturday, May 26, 2012

One of the Best Ways to Minimize the Pain of Change

At a committee meeting last week of an organization where I volunteer, it was announced that a key part of their Government funding had been cut. It's a wonderful organization that does important work, but that unfortunate impact is not what most struck me.  What leapt out at me was that much of the pain could have been minimized by doing one simple thing: communicating better.

In this particular case better communications would have manifest itself in several ways.
  • Better timed communications. Making the announcement about the cuts on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend understandably panicked many people who wanted to know if they were affected and what the plan was. And whether true or not, this timing left the taste in everyone's mouth that this "story" was being buried or timed so as to avoid media scrutiny. Obviously this only heightened the upset of the unexpected news.
  • More lead-time in communicating. If key leaders (for example, the Executive Directors of the affected agencies) had been given a bit of lead-time they could have prepared for the phone calls from their staff, who instead found out through the media and their peers.
  • Communicating a "message track". Since it fell to the various Executive Directors to communicate this change, it would have helped them to have key points to convey, specific reasons and messages to convey even if all the details weren't quite clear yet.
  • Communicating before deadlines. The affected organizations were expecting news on this funding quite a while ago (a March 31 deadline had already passed nearly 2 months ago), and delays in confirmation of these funds has not been unusual over the years. So, rather than shut down their programs, they went ahead and renewed contracts and incurred costs just as they have in the past.  If this communication had happened before the deadline the organizations could have more effectively (and at less cost) wound down these programs.
In brief, having a communications plan that considers who knows what and when, and what details need to be communicated are all critical components of any change. Whether you're in the charitable world or the for-profit world, sweating the small details of communications can save time, money and pain for everyone.