I just returned from the IABC International Conference in New York City. As always, it was a busy week of learning, catching up, walking and shopping.

This year, the content was primarily focused on employee engagement and change – a sign of the times. I attended many of the change-focused sessions and one really sparked my attention.

Russell Grossman, director of communication for the U.K. Department of Business and Enterprise, gave a great presentation on change communication. Among other things, he mentioned that in change communication, 90% of our effort goes into “formal” communication. But the research shows it is the informal that actually changes behavior.

While I agree, I would clarify that communicators still need to take a structured approached to driving the “informal” communication. If we leave the informal to chance, we won’t get the results. We have to stage everything to get the desired outcome. For example:

  • We have to find the few people in the organization who really drive the grapevine and arm them with the right information
  • We have to settle for lower production values to give the impression of informality – doesn’t mean the content wasn’t carefully planned and the result carefully staged and edited
  • We have to support our leaders at all levels with tools, training and information to help them have those informal discussions

Eloquor is working with a client right now that has long handled its annual strategy discussion as one-big-hoopla, then nothing on the topic the rest of the year. The hoopla has included video and a package of materials for managers, including the ubiquitous Microsoft PowerPoint®. They know it’s not working. They don’t want it to be one-big-hoopla once a year. They want ongoing dialogue and behavior change. They want engagement.

So, we’re recommending a few ideas to make the experience less formal and more embedded in the culture:

  • Informal language throughout, focused more on “what’s in it for me” and individual stories
  • A quarterly web chat (online live video with live Q&A) with the CEO and some of her team in a talk show format
  • Informal video clips of employees telling stories about how they are contributing to the strategy
  • Online tools and measurement focused on individual behavior and leadership to help managers have more productive conversations

Remember, even a less formal approach takes time and attention. So if your next change communication plan seeks to leverage informal communication, make sure you plan just as carefully for that as you do the formal communication.