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Approaches in communication

An increase in the amount of communication

Successful organisational change programmes will often establish additional types of communication to support the change process. This could involve a change newsletter for all staff distributed at regular intervals, establishing a change area within a website, regular email messages explaining what has happened and so forth.

Governance

Basically, increasing the amount of communication usually involves both increasing the frequency of regular communications and introducing new communication vehicles.

A focus on producing accurate and high quality communications

Communicating about change should involve all those personnel with specialist knowledge. Messages should not be entrusted to a general manager or to a communications specialist alone. For example, communications about targets, timelines, progress and such matters should be reviewed by the project manager, communications about HR issues should be reviewed by the HR manager and so forth. It is very important to ensure communications are clear and accurate.

The use of multiple channels of communication to accommodate a range of personal preferences

It is very important to ensure that messages about change and progress are relayed via appropriate channels. This will often involve using multiple channels. For example, specialist websites, email, question and answer sites, blogs, memos, posters, large group briefings, small group briefings, and personal contact.

For example, the Mullin[i] review of the City of Glasgow College merger process stated that,

"A considerable effort was made to use a wide variety of communication channels to keep staff informed of merger issues. This included regular briefing from the Principal Designate both in written and oral form, the appointment of communication facilitators to collate and address questions and so forth."

Repetition and explanation of key messages.

Too often at times of change, important messages may only have been transmitted on one occasion, but with an expectation that everyone will receive them as intended. This will not happen. The most important messages, such as around structure change, change in roles, change in major procedures and similar areas that affect both the effectiveness of the organisation and the working arrangements for staff, need careful and repeated transmission.

Associated with accurately describing change, it is important to at least answer the question - Why is this being done? If an explanation is not given, a motive will be interpreted by the message recipient. During times of change, turbulence and stress, individuals are more likely to assume the worst, unless matters are explained to the contrary. Remember, it is not the fault of staff if they interpret matters incorrectly - it is likely to be because they were not communicated properly.

It is critical to ensure that key message are regularly transmitted, re-enforced and explained.

A common approach to communication across all merging or federating institutions

All mergers and federations by their nature involve more than one organisation. Organisations are highly unlikely to have exactly the same styles of communication. It is generally considered to be good practice in the lead up to merger and federation to ensure consistency of approach to communication across different colleges.

Staff across all organisations will benefit from the same regular communication and same focus on key messages. This does not preclude additional communication on matters relevant to individual colleges, but it is very important to ensure there is consistency in approach and message content. It will be a particular challenge when dealing with federations, rather than a single merged institution, to maintain a consistent approach to communication.

Horizontal as well as vertical (both downward and upward) communication

Horizontal communications are aided by putting in place effective staff engagement channels, such as appointing communication facilitators across colleges, holding small group discussions, and enabling staff to post questions and have them openly answered.

Upward communication is aided by engaging staff in identifying local issues and feeding them up to project managers and other senior specialists. For example, staff in the front line are more likely to understand the needs of particular groups of learners, to be aware of where there are opportunities to simplify processes such as at enrolment, and to be aware of important but often forgotten needs, such as the production of new telephone directories.


 


[i]Mullin, R. City of Glasgow College Merger Review. Report for Scottish Funding Council and City of Glasgow College, 2010

 

This guidance was developed in 2012 and will be reviewed in 2017.

Your feedback is important so let us know where you have used it or how it can be improved by contacting Linda McLeod, email: lmcleod@sfc.ac.uk.

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