Communication is often an underutilized asset in academic change projects. Most change agents are enthusiastic about the project they are working on, the new vision they are casting, and the technical details they might encounter during the project. While these are valid issues for all of us to focus attention on, communicating our ideas and process beyond our immediate change team is key to success. In fact, effective communication from the start of the project can often be the difference between success or failure in a change initiative. Successful change depends on how the outside world perceives it. When a project is announced and gets started, many people on campus—faculty, students, staff—are curious about the project, wondering how the effort will impact them. Their desire for information is natural, since the project may require changes in the tasks they must complete for their own jobs.
My experience with change projects has shown me that change agents are quite enthusiastic about beginning their project but are averse to sharing information during the ideation phase of a project. The lack of information can be damaging. In the absence of information flowing from the change team, rumors, misleading information, and damaging inaccuracies rise to prominence. Stakeholders outside the change e team can get the wrong vision or perception of the project. For that point on, the change team is fighting an uphill battle to make their project a reality.
The solution then is to start any new change project with a communication strategy. An effective communication strategy can create awareness about the project early on and facilitate understanding about the project during the later stages of change implementation. This can help persuade stakeholders, improve buy-in, and create commitment to the change idea. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has produced a roadmap for creating an effective communication strategy. This strategy identifies that “Good communication should never be an afterthought, but rather a significant part of the program’’ . PMI has identified the following key ideas behind a good communication strategy:
- Clearly communicate the change vision early
- Outline the benefits and importance of change
- Ensure that the leaders actively communicate throughout the change process
- Use multiple methods and channels to communicate
- Provide opportunities for dialogue and true representation
- Repeat the change message often
- Monitor and measure the effectiveness of the communication