How to avoid an internal comms failure

As communicators, we are often tasked with the challenge of selling a new management program, a culture change or supporting executives to pursue new business. We can do our best to deliver communications to sell these changes but research has shown that up to 70 percent of these changes simply don’t get over the line.

Why such a high failure rate? PR professionals know their job and are fully aware of  the importance of communication and training. So why doesn’t the message get through?

The fact is, more often than not the message does get through – and very effectively. However, the block is in behavioural change. It’s getting people to change the way they think, act and respond to situations that can be frustratingly difficult.

So what are the things that we need to watch out for when dealing with a big shift in the way you want people to behave in the workplace?

Lack of ownership

Many people feel they have no control over their workplace, instead they are left to ‘follow the rules’ or completely disengage all together. A Gallup study in America found that 71% of workers are not engaged or are actively disengaged. It’s little wonder that the messages PR people deliver go unheard. Engage people in the new program by asking for their input and challenging their beliefs. Even a small amount of control goes a long way toward people feeling engaged in the workplace.

Limiting beliefs

We all believe we are a “certain sort of person” who responds to things in “certain sorts of ways”.  Comments like, “that doesn’t involve me so I won’t bother learning about it.” Or “I’m no good at this so I won’t bother getting involved.” Worse still, “I can’t make a difference.” These attitudes are at the heart of the failure to change.  If this is the case no change is possible simply by using good messaging and communications tactics.

Barriers to change are too high

What are barriers to change? These can be things as simple as the work environment, lack of skills or even team dynamics. Think about a situation where you’re asking an executive to start participating in a business development drive. They sit in an open plan office and feel totally exposed and reluctant to call potential clients in this environment. Giving them the space and tools to do the work is simple, as long as you’re made aware of the problem.

Many organisations are turning to coaching to build capability around specific change programs. It works alongside the communications program and helps reinforce messages in a bespoke way. Coaching works for the following reasons:

Accuracy is not enough, you need fluency.

People need more than the facts; they need to keep hearing about why the change is happening and the benefits it will bring. They need to talk about it and live it. They need fluency. Coaching facilitates this through ongoing discussions on a regular basis in a consistent way. People can incorporate the changes into their behavior in an way that is accessible to them.

Let them tell their own story.

The bespoke approach of coaching allows the coach to explore drivers and the blocks individuals hold that may challenge the effectiveness of a change program. Coaching allows people to create their own story, making the change meaningful and tangible.

Create a fertile ground for change. Relying on key ‘influencers’ in an organisation who can cascade change is a risky strategy. Coaching establishes a groundswell of change that agents / champions / drivers can lead, influence and motivate.

Questioning the barriers

It’s all too easy for people to put up barriers as to why they can’t possibly make changes. After all change can be very confronting for may people. By questioning the barriers and putting up alternatives coaching allows people to dismantle their own fears and take charge of the change on their own terms.

Coaching, together with good communications, can be the difference between success and failure. Next time you’re in a position to roll out a new program in your office, consider this winning combination.


Kellie Hasluck

Kellie has provided Western Australian businesses with communications advice for nearly 20 years as a co-founder of Clarity. She provides coaching and mentoring services to executives in the resources, engineering and financial services and not for profit sectors. Kellie is an experienced public relations practitioner undertaking strategic planning, community consultation, media relations, and internal communications for large national and international organisations.