The article was first published here.

In another reflection of changing times in India, a lawmaker of the current Indian government has put emphasis on something that is generally discussed at progressive corporate organisations – change communication.

Speaking at the valedictory function of Mid Career Training Programme for Senior Indian Information Service officers (IIS) at Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, India’s Minister of Information & Broadcasting, Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation Shri M Venkaiah Naidu said that the Narendra Modi government places ‘communication as a critical cog in the wheel of change‘.

He said three very interesting things at the function:

To bring about a change always creates a dissonance in the governance process.”

“The (current federal) government in the past two years has embarked on a program of communication innovation-adopting methods, seeking spaces to ensure last mile connectivity to the people.”

“The objective is to plug the gaps in the government’s communication approach in areas of content design, social marketing, branding, impact assessment and weaving technologies in the digital age.”

This is a refreshingly different approach from a government in India, after decades of top-down monologue-oriented official communiqués. Those, of course, work(ed) brilliantly in a bureaucracy led system that cherishes status quo. But rarely, if ever, in heralding a change.

How well the current administration is able to walk the talk of a comprehensive communication roadmap remains to be seen. But going by – probably the best in the world – responses on Twitter by, for example, India’s Minister for External Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj, and Minister for Railways, Shri Suresh Prabhu, the start has been good.

It would take another couple of terms of successive governments for the system to finally institutionalize good communication – especially that related to change – in Indian polity.

But it should take a much smaller period for you to implement the ‘Change Communication Good Practises‘, so to speak, in your corporate organisation.

Here, we are talking about ‘change’ in general – from the perspective of general communication requirements of internal, corporate, and marketing communication, among all other.

The principal facilitator of good change communication is the ability of the team behind it to understand how people (employees, partners, clients, consumers) perceive and respond to change. Our collective experiences over the years tell us that most people are reluctant for change because they see change as a force that disrupts their cosy corner of the world.

Hence, it is imperative for the change communication team to have the intellectual and emotional proficiency to appreciate and segregate the resistance to change, its sources, and silos – and devise communication answers (read ‘strategy’) for the response and/or resistance to change or the anticipation of change.

The first step towards achieving that is understanding the roles and responsibilities of the leaders, communicators, and people-facing personnel during the execution of change – whether in an intra-organisation sphere or those related to the markets.

Though it sounds elementary, it takes some effort and practice to ensure that the entire team consistently remains on the same page with regards tactics, channels, and techniques that are to be used for communicating change.

At the same time, and this is extremely crucial, the team has to realise that no can have a complete handle over the entire curve of the impending change.

This realisation has to be compassionately passed on to the recipients – while making sure that the team itself realises that it is communicating amid an open-ended, unpredictable change, which would require them to be ever flexible about the nature and frequency of their communication.

Some changes, for many, unfortunately, are not open-ended and unpredictable – and are precisely the kind of changes that makes people fear change in general. In other words, sometimes, change indeed stands for a bad news that has to be communicated.

Like most things in life, there is no one correct way of communicating bad news. But personally, I believe that we could learn from the fraternity that lives with the prospect of delivering bad news on any given day – the doctors.

As someone who belongs to a ‘cancer family’ and has interacted with doctors exhaustively in the context of my late father’s cancer diagnosis and treatment (in vain, the second time), I believe there is no communication as nerve-wracking as that between a terminally ill patient – or his/her caregiver – and the doctor in charge.

Identifying the significance of the subject, the American Medical Association (AMA) first included principles related to the delivery of bad news in its code of conduct almost 150 years ago.

American doctors Michael W. Rabow and Stephen J. McPhee developed a model in 1999 about ‘Techniques for Delivery Bad News Well’ that is represented by a simple mnemonic ABCDE.

ABCDE stands for  ‘Advance Preparation‘, ‘Building a Therapeutic Relationship‘, ‘Communicating Well‘, ‘Dealing with Patient and Family Reactions‘, and ‘Encouraging/Validating Emotions‘.

It is obvious what ‘bad news’ the medical fraternity refers to.

In our case, we can define bad news as any news that either proposes to bring about or is perceived as bringing about far-reaching and/or negative change in the current circumstances of the recipient of the news. In other words, the universe might be different, but the underlining principles of ABCDE work just as well in public policy and corporate governance communications.

Eventually, what really matters is your attitude and approach towards the recipients of your communication (if not actually being that, you should at least come across as being compassionate towards the people who stand to be affected by an impending change), the clarity of your communication, the safeguarding of privacy (related to issues like internal appraisal reports, if not the non-disclosure in public of the ‘pink slip’ itself), and the freedom for the recipient of change communication to question you, and get answers to his/her questions.

It’s not hard really but really needs heart.

How good are you at communicating change?

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