Change management in the NHS: A guide for internal communicators

It is important to have a solid internal communication strategy that runs alongside every change management project. This blog helps you pull that plan together.

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Whatever the change management project, it will always ignite a wide variety of emotions amongst your staff – from fear to excitement.  

Below we detail the 8 internal comms steps for change management that will help your staff adjust.

8 internal comms steps for change management

Did you know that 70% of change initiatives fail. Let’s ensure your internal communications aren’t the reason for that failure. Here is what you need to do to ensure your NHS internal communications are up to scratch when managing change.

1. Know everything about your change management project

Before you do anything you need to do your research. You need to understand the drivers for the change, the impact and the desired outcomes. In fact, you need to know a lot! Here are all the questions you need clear answers to before you can build an effective change management communications plan.

  • What is the change?
  • What does the change replace?
  • What is the purpose of the change?
  • Who will be affected by the change?
  • Who is leading the change?
  • Who is involved in making the change happen?
  • What are the timescales?
  • What are the desired outcomes?
  • What will the key milestones be?
  • How will the change project be monitored and measured?

2. Group your staff and anticipate their reactions

Once you know everything about the change, you need to consider the impact the change will have on your staff. Group your staff depending on the level of involvement and impact the change will have on them. For example, you may have groups for those who will be directly involved in the change, those who will benefit but aren’t directly involved, those who will be temporarily inconvenienced by the change, etc.

Once you have these groups you can build personas for them. Answer these questions as you do this:

  • What is their involvement?
  • What is expected of them?
  • When will they be impacted?
  • What emotions will they feel at each stage?

These personas will become your guide when creating your change management communications plan.

3. Map your change management internal communications plan

With all the background information now collated you can start to map out your plan.

Using a timeline, split your communications between each of the audiences you’ve identified. Consider the type of communication that will be required, the regularity of that communication and the most effective channel to use.

It’s highly likely that your plan will utilise multiple channels at the same time, and these will differ depending on your audience. Channels to consider include:

  • Email
  • Employee engagement apps
  • Intranet
  • Messaging platforms
  • Social media
  • Face-to-face
  • Digital signage

Also consider the mediums that will be most effective, i.e. written, video, pictorial or verbal.  Once again, it’s likely a combination of these will be used.

Once you have matched the audience with the channel and medium, establish the frequency of your communications. Some groups will need more regular updates than others so ensure your timeline carefully considers all your audiences.

4. Create the communications

Now it’s time to bring your expertise to life. Craft the communications for each of the items you have added to your change management communications timeline. Structure your communications with the ‘why’ first, followed by the ‘what’ and ‘how’.

The ‘why’ element is particularly important and this needs to be reiterated throughout your comms. With a constant reminder of the benefits, it will help to allay any fear and offer reassurance.

For every communication ensure you answer the following question for each audience:

  • What does it mean for me?
  • What’s in it for me?

As always, consider the language you use for each audience and ensure every communication is relevant.

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5. Consider who needs to be involved with your change management communication plan

In addition to the audiences you have mapped out in your change management communication plan there are a few more groups of people you should think about before you release any communications:

  • Those directly involved in the change project – some people may just be involved at certain stages of the project so do you need to keep then in the loop too, or will that be covered by the project team

  • Senior leaders – whether you need their involvement in delivery your communication plan or not, there will be value in them understanding the change management comms plan. Taking time to run through the plan with these people can only be beneficial. The more they know, the more they can support their teams with the change.

    Ultimately, you need your leaders and managers to be fully behind your communication plan. Any push back or lack of awareness is going to restrict the success of your change management communication plan.

  • Potential advocates – are there any advocates you could recruit? Any people who are likely to be firmly bought into the change who hold positive influence over their colleagues? If so, get them involved early on too. With staff as ambassadors it will really strengthen the change project.

6. Establish how you are going to listen

You have already considered the different emotions staff are going to feel but it is important that they feel comfortable airing and discussing these emotions.

They need a safe space to discuss and process the change. These safe spaces could be with their line manager, in focus groups or through surveys. Whatever routes are available, make sure you promote them within your comms.

It would also be beneficial for you to have access to some of this insight. If you have the facility to do so, build regular feedback sessions into your plan. That way you can address their emotions and communicate with compassion. This will help people process the change far more effectively than if their reactions were just ignored.

7. Expect change!

Whilst a lot of planning is required for change management communications you must also expect change! The three most likely changes you will need to accommodate are:

  • Delays or changes in the project itself – depending on the type and scale of your change project, problems may occur. As these happen, your communications will need to react. The more informed your staff are, the less daunting any hold up, or change in direction, will be.

  • Addressing rumours – rumours go hand-in-hand with any change. People talk and Chinese whispers evolve. By having solid feedback processes in place, you will hopefully pick up on these rumours and be able to address them in future communications. The more proactive you can be in addressing these, the better.

  • Staff-led change – through your feedback loops your staff may come up with some good suggestions that will improve your change management communication plan. Welcoming suggestions and then bringing them to life is a great way to increase buy-in for the project, so it brings a double benefit!

8. Review your communication strategy

Once your change communication plan has ended, evaluate its success. Did you achieve all your goals? Were the messages effective? Was there anything lacking? Were there any hurdles? What would you do differently if you ran the communication plan again?

Ensure you seek the opinion of others in this process too – from the staff who received the communications, to the project lead.

Only by analysing the project in this way will you be able to improve future change management communication plans. And the closer you do this to completion, the more informative your conclusions will be.

One point to remember above all

For change to be successful each individual needs to choose to buy into it. Your change management communications plan needs to influence opinions and change behaviours. Only once you have done this will a change management project be truly successful. By creating informative communications that resonate with each person, your internal communications will be able to influence the speed and effectiveness of a change.

The role NewZapp Trusted Delivery plays in change communications

NewZapp Trusted Delivery is an NHS email communication platform that enables our customers to communicate change effectively.

With our email software, you can create visually appealing emails, ensure they are all delivered fast, and access detailed engagement analytics. If you would like to create, deliver and monitor more effective emails, get in touch.

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Rachel Stidworthy

Marketing Manager

With over 15 years’ experience in communications I have seen first-hand the difference strong internal communications can make. I am passionate about helping organisations reap the rewards of an engaged workforce and feel privileged to work for an organisation that has this same passion. We can achieve more when we work together towards the same goals. 

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