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Multi-generational Communication Planning

When we think of multi-generational plans in the technology world, we’re usually thinking about our approach to rollout with more than one phase – an implementation so large that it can’t, or shouldn’t, be rolled out in one fell swoop. We rightfully scope the work into bite-sized chunks that will lead us to long term success, with one phase building on the next.

In the Change Management world, when I think of multi-generational planning, I think of just that – how to reach multiple generations, particularly with our communications strategies, so that our messages land and stick.

We live in the most challenging of times from a communication perspective. There are at least three generations actively engaged in today’s workplace – from baby boomers to millennials, with Gen Xs in between. And just like they like their coffee, these generations like their communications in different ways, presenting a huge challenge for a Change practitioner!

Our baby-boomers entered the workplace before the computer became mainstream and are most comfortable with face-to-face communication, either in person or on the phone. Gen Xers joined the workforce when email become commonplace, and this new “communication channel” blew us away. I remember when I got my first email address, and how revolutionary the concept was. It was so revolution, I remember the (computer-generated) password assigned to my first email account, and I actually still use it for many things today. Yes, it was that random that it still works!

Millennials love text messages – anything important can and should be said in 140 characters or less – and are all about social media. For them, the advent of collaboration via tools like Microsoft’s Yammer and now Teams, “Facebook for the workplace” fits like a glove.

There is nothing wrong with any of these forms of communication, and each has its benefits as well as drawbacks. Here’s the catch. As a Change Management practitioner, our job, if we want our messages to land AND stick, has the greatest chance of doing so when we communication with people in ways that they want to be communicated with.

Several years ago, we said that if you wanted anything to land, you had to say it seven different times (the Rule of Seven) over at least three different channels. As our audiences have matured and new generations have been introduced, my theory is that we have to say things at least eight, if not nine, times over at least four different channels for messages to stick (with one of them being 140 characters or having an @ symbol). We cannot expect a single communication method to satisfactorily reach our constituents and meet our needs. If you’ve tried that, you know that doesn’t work well. I recently had a client tell me, “Email is our preferred method of communication, and oh by the way, no one reads their emails.” How well do you think communications are landing there?

So what does this mean for Change Management practitioners? It means we have to work harder. It means we have to be more creative. It means we have to estimate our work properly, as there’s more to do than we’ve ever done before. Our job is to meet people where they are, and not expect people to come to us. That will lead to effective communication that lands and sticks.

In your communications strategy, are you planning for your multi-generational audiences? Are you building robust messages that can be delivered over multiple channels to make it as easy as possible for your intended audiences to receive your information? If you are, kudos! If you’re not, I’d encourage you to think through these ideas – it may be the difference between messages landing or not, your target audiences being prepared or not, and ultimately, your projects’ success or not.

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