Process improvement tip #7: Don’t announce change by e-mail

In the lead up to PEX Masters next month, we’re running a series of process improvement tips to help you jump start your initiatives for 2013. This is the seventh of twelve.

Your company is ready to launch a major process improvement initiative – perhaps it’s an efficiency drive or maybe you’re trying to improve quality within a particular business unit or product. Whatever it is, like most change programs, there’s going to be some element of disruption to your staff.

So what’s the first thing management does to launch the program? All too often, they send an e-mail. And typically, the longer the better.

There, the manager may think. I’ve done my job. I’ve clearly spelled out what we’re doing and why. Staff will understand what’s happening and the initiative will be a huge success. Now I can just put my head down and watch as this initiative rolls to its successful conclusion.

If only it were so.

Columnist Jeff Cole first wrote about the perils of announcing change by e-mail earlier this year (see Avoid the corporate black hole) where senior management figures they’ll save time and be efficient by blasting the workforce with one mass communication explaining what’s happening in one go – then are never heard from again.

Indeed, many of us are guilty of this approach (whether we’re senior management or not) where we blast an e-mail out to a group of people about something new and expect the message will be understood. Definitely a more risky approach when that e-mail concerns something that’s already likely to be contentious!

Someone by the name of Veronica Apostolico is attributed with putting it best: "Communicating change via email or voicemail is like ending a relationship that was - it's just bad form. It leaves the recipient bewildered and angry, and whomever is delivering the message looking very bad."

Instead, Jeff Cole recommends a "cascading sponsorship" approach where the key stakeholder will call together his or her direct reports and explain what’s happening. Those reports will then call in their direct reports and so on, until the message reaches the all the way through the enterprise.

"As with many things in life, the proper way of announcing a change takes longer but ensures effectiveness," wrote Cole.