Communicating change

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Somebody once told me that the only people who like change are babies with dirty nappies. Over the past few years, through hard, grim experience of changing babies nappies, I’ve subsequently discovered that even then they’re often not totally cooperative.

So what hope do we have as communicators when to comes to engaging with people around difficult and often controversial change programmes?

To help answer that NHS Confederation hosted an event earlier this week bringing together some excellent speakers to look at the issue of communicating change across the health sector (you can see details here).

The event provided a load of case studies and heaps of tips on communicating change successfully. In no particular order here are some of the key points.

On change

Change is inevitable and a constant presence in all our lives. Professionally we need to think about it as a process that’s happening all the time.

We all have a vested interest in the NHS and more than anything else it’s something that’s made up of people.

One thing that never changes is that everybody thinks they can do the communications job better.

The NHS is facing a period of huge change in the next few years.

Employee engagement

One of the biggest mistakes the NHS makes is not talking to staff. The old broadcast model doesn’t work when engaging staff and all the research says that more engaged staff provide better care.

Staff should be our leaders in communicating to patients and visitors but how can they be expected to do that if their own organisation isn’t communicating with them.

Staff need briefings, newsletters, intranets, bulletins, posters and all the usual corporate stuff but more importantly they want to see managers and senior leaders walking the wards and reassuring them. They need to be getting these key message direct and seeing the whites of their eyes.

Change communications

Delivering and communicating change across the NHS is very difficult because people are very attached to their local services. Often people will campaign to save local services that are out of date or not fit for purpose.

The NHS sometimes isn’t as proactive as it should be in managing change communications or reading the intelligence that’s available to help interpret the mood.

Sometimes too much energy is focused on handling media enquiries at the expense of all the other stakeholders.

Simplicity is the absolute key to successful change communications but is also the most difficult thing to pull off.

Planning

Organisations need to build strong channels and work with stakeholders all of the time – not just during times of change.

You need to build a ‘no surprises’ relationship with staff and stakeholders especially during times of change.

So much about a successful comms job is boring and tactical but that’s the important groundwork that needs to be done a long time in advance.

Top Tips

Rewrite EVERYTHING that you organisation produces.

Never underestimate local passion and don’t assume that strong economic or clinical arguments will always win people over.

Most people don’t understand or care about the complexity of the NHS or how it’s made up. And nor should they.

Keep the drum beat going even if you’re not getting the coverage you want. It’s important to keep the momentum going if you want to build a consistent narrative. People need to hear things at least three times before they start taking notice.

Find lots of interesting ways of saying the same thing.

And finally….

Sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing you can do about it even if you’re a brilliant comms person.

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