“Change readiness is the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage, minimize risk and sustain performance.”

– Harvard Business Review

Change is a constant and ever-accelerating force that compels leaders to redirect visions, capitalize on new ideas, adjust course, or chart new paths forward. Against this landscape, it’s more important than ever to craft change communications strategies that engage audiences, inspire skeptics and stick in the fabric of an organization. 

Whether you’re navigating a leadership transition, merger and acquisition, crisis, or corporate rebrand, these four steps can help you successfully manage change, align stakeholders around a shared vision, and prepare leaders to communicate complex transformations. Similarly, this same framework can be used to help organizations launch, implement or re-engineer new and existing communications strategies (e.g., introducing new internal communications approaches or expanding a traditional PR program to include thought leadership storytelling). 

Culture & Values
  • What cultural issues are relevant to the change initiative?
  • Is the change consistent with the current organizational culture?
  • What is the existing value system and how does it contribute to successful implementation?
  • What culture and values is best suited for the desired change?
  • Commitment & Attitude
  • What is the common vision/perception of the change? Is it agreed by all key stakeholders?
  • What is the understanding of stakeholders required to implement the change?
  • Who are the supporters and opponents?
  • Who is motivated to change?
  • What type of resistance is expected?
  • Capacity & Resources
  • What is the existing decision-making and management system available to support the change?
  • What roles will be most directly impacted by the change?
  • What will happen to existing reporting relationships?
  • What kind of technology is the organization using?
  • What is the level of existing skills and knowledge?
  • What is the financial condition of the organization to implement the change?
  • Step #1: Discover & Assess

    Get the right people into the conversation, analyze the needs, evaluate and anticipate organizational and stakeholder readiness, and their ability and capacity to undergo the required change. 

    This process includes an assessment of the change and the impact it will have on employees via change readiness assessments, interviews, focus groups, employee and leader listening sessions, surveys, etc. 

    This provides a clear foundation to understand and customize change activities, prevent biases, and invite diverse ideas that cultivate collaboration, community and purpose. 

    Step #2: Define & Prioritize

    Once you identify the stakeholders/sponsors to consult, it’s time to align on the problem statement – what isn’t working? What are the symptoms? Who is feeling the pain? As part of this step, leaders need to clearly and concretely summarize what they’re trying to achieve (with metrics), consider all potential pain points as the team agrees on what’s worth addressing, and get stakeholders aligned on the most urgent needs. 

    From there, it might be tempting to jump swiftly into brainstorming mode, but you’d be missing a crucial step to define success: a decision framework. This should include criteria (what must happen) and constraints (what can’t happen) to determine whether a proposed solution is a perfect fit or belongs in the waste bin. 

    Then, label the constraints (scope of change, timing, budget), ensure everyone agrees on the problem statement and has an opportunity to weigh into the solutions ‘wish list,’ define success metrics, brainstorm options and choose a solution using the how/now/wow matrix. It’s important to remember that the best plans account for process, purpose and people. They solve the surface (and unspoken) problems, accommodate new problems that may arise, and are thoughtful of those directly impacted by the situation. Keep ideating until you achieve consensus on a solution that’s important, urgent and workable. 

    Once you’ve identified the solution, create a change summary slide that outlines:

    • Process changes (what’s different, what’s the same?)
    • Organizational structure changes (any changes to reporting relationships? Who is leading the change?)
    • Role changes (who will be responsible for new work activities?)
    • Culture and mindset changes (what changes to culture and mindsets need to be embraced?)

    Limit your summary to four or five milestones that should be prioritized. 

    Step #3: Prepare & Plan

    Finally, it’s time to disseminate the vision for change across the organization, determine necessary resources and provide regular status updates to leadership. 

    Create a comprehensive change communications strategy and engagement plan designed to address resistance and power struggles, balance workloads and build healthy team habits. This includes strategy development, message mapping, story building, tools and systems to bring the plan to life. Ultimately, the strategy outlines a cohesive, integrated and repeatable approach for all change communications.

    Step #4: Launch & Sustain

    Enact the change communications strategy and execute project management responsibilities, build team trainings, identify outcomes, manage and see the project to completion, and measure success. 

    By embracing a purposeful and intentional change communications strategy, you can cultivate a change-resilient culture that is poised to assess, respond and adapt to all levels of transformation – whether that’s PR, internal communications or crisis response.