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For High Impact Global Communications, One Size Never Fits All

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You’re poised to launch a Big Change that will rock the world of everyone across your organization, around the world. You’ve spent weeks with C-level execs, Marketing, HR and Legal to hammer out a set of crisp, consistent messages. After weeks of haggling, everyone has finally signed off. At last, you have sent the key messages and communications plan to your contacts around the world, leaving you time for last-minute tuning and tweaking.

Just as you’re about to breathe a sigh of relief – prematurely, it turns out – you receive a stream of heated emails asking, essentially, “What on earth were you thinking?!” You’re shocked and confused. After all, you worked hard to create core messages that could be translated from English without losing much meaning in the process. And what about that multi-channel communications matrix that took you days to put together, designed to accommodate different cultural preferences?

In this edition of Communiqué, we examine seven steps that any change leader needs to take in creating and implementing a global communications plan designed to resonate with those most affected by the change.

  • So, what’s the big deal? The magnitude of any given change will vary by segment of the employee population, such as job type or role, as well as by location. It’s dangerous (and costly) to make sweeping generalizations by polling only the people closest to you. In fact, you need to cast a very wide net at the outset to determine how people in different countries or regions are likely to be affected by the change. Set up time to speak with country contacts, either 1:1 or in small groups. These contacts can act as your “change translators” who can help you to gauge the anticipated level of resistance, or receptivity, this change will engender in their locations. Consider also setting up a virtual conference area where your contacts can contribute to a larger “idea bank” at their convenience. Publish and discuss your results with your project team, as well as with your contacts who have contributed their ideas.
  • Create a context for change. As you begin creating your communications plan, find out what other changes lay ahead. What is the nature and scope of other changes? What’s the likely disposition of affected stakeholders? Timing? To what extent will different project teams have to compete for mindshare? Is there an opportunity for “co-marketing” multiple projects at one time? If you’re lucky, your organization might have an “air traffic controller of change” who is aware of all projects rolling out, potential intersections, possible conflicts, and opportunities to streamline. In addition, you’ll need to find out what other activities might affect your project at a local level, such as a planned shutdown, a wave of downsizing or a recent merger.
  • Maintain a global network of “go-to” change consultants. These people may play different roles from country to country or region to region. E.g., they may be members of your extended project team, local communications professionals, HR consultants, or interested stakeholders. Whatever the title, these are the people you will rely on to validate messages, solicit communications advice, pilot communications samples and generally, provide guidance to the project team every step of the way. These may or may not be the same people as the “change consultants.” Plan to meet network members frequently, at least weekly in the early planning phases and during roll-out.
  • The relative importance of global messages. Many organizations insist on “globally consistent” messages and in so doing, may generate content that’s pretty much useless in other locations. Sure, a company has to make sure that its branding is consistent around the world. But for change that affects an organization’s own employees and managers, country and regional representatives need latitude when it comes to interpreting the implications. In addition, the people communicating the changes need to feel comfortable adding their own spin, adjusting for their personal style of communicating. When precise language is required for legal reasons, stipulate that clearly. Otherwise, messages will be far more credible when they can be refined for local influencers and their audiences.
  • Avoid getting lost in the translation. Assuming you already know which countries require language translation (and who’s paying for it), make sure you allocate sufficient time for your local project team contacts to review the translated content first. After all, only those who really grasp the changes and related implications can make sure that the translation is accurate, clear, and preserves the intended meaning. Also make sure you know which groups need content in the local language. Not all employees within a given country needs a local translation. For U.S.-based corporations doing business in other countries, the more senior the country team, the less likely they are to need content in the local language, as a rule.
  • Respect the power of local gatekeepers. The gatekeepers who will be transmitting the messages for local audiences need to be selected with great care. First, they must be regarded as credible, effective communicators in their own right. To maintain credibility, they need to have an in-depth knowledge of the project, since they’ll need to field questions from local audiences in real-time. (Simply providing a set of FAQs to someone who has just a cursory knowledge of the project won’t cut it.) In addition to understanding the project inside out, they must be sensitive to the perceptions, fears and concerns employees are likely to have regarding the change ahead. Poll these local gatekeepers well ahead of time to find out how the project team can best equip them to be successful communicators of change in their areas.
  • Create a flexible communications menu. At a project level, you may have a core set of communications pieces lined up, such as email templates, FAQs, PPTs, articles, project blogs, and scripts, all modifiable by local contacts. Interview your local change translators or gatekeepers (who may or may not be the same people) as to what communication devices are likely to have the greatest impact, given this change. E.g., in some facilities, tent cards and posters are more effective than email or blogs. In parts of Europe, mini-posters in bathroom stalls are common to grab people’s attention. A mousepad or mug might be popular in some places, whereas they may be seen as an expensive turnoff in others. Weave a global “tapestry” of communications offerings, indicating the best use of each, and let local contacts assemble the best combination of elements as they see fit.

Invest the time in building trusting relationships with your local contacts. Find people who can act as reliable “change translators” and communications advisors. Earn credibility by seeking out and incorporating their ideas into your overall project planning. Take time to familiarize yourself with the “senders,” or gatekeepers, to find out what makes them tick. Bottom line: Be prepared to spend time on the front end of the project to create and cultivate ongoing relationships with trusted local contacts. Otherwise, you’ll need a lot more time on the back end to deal with the likely resistance, confusion, frustration and costly delays at the time of launch, and perhaps long after.

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See related ezine articles: Mobilize Global Virtual Teams by Avoiding 8 Common Landmines, Connecting Virtual Teams Through Imagery and Metaphor, No Shortcuts to Real Cultural Assimilation.

Our Practical Guidelines for Brainstorming Across Borders tipsheet provides a framework for structuring a productive virtual brainstorming session with your colleagues around the world.

Tip #66: Many people use another language most successfully by speaking and others by writing. Offer at least two ways to communicate. In addition to phone, provide a tool so they can provide written responses, either during the meeting, or in advance-preferably both. For 76 more tips, order our booklet, “77 Tips for Planning and Running Exceptional Virtual Meetings.”