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Leadership matters - and the iod is doing its bit
What’s going on? – Communicating in times of change
All organisations should have a communication strategy but during times of change it
becomes vital. There are several reasons why this is so important:
Change or the prospect of change affects people in different ways, but to many it can be profoundly unsettling.
In the absence of reliable information, the rumour mill will grind a lot faster.
Because it’s an uncertain process for the instigators of the change, they tend to clam up about it until it’s all perfect. (Which it never is, of course!)
People’s commitment and involvement wil be easier to gain if they have been informed along the way. Being kept in the dark creates resentment.
People who know what you are intending to do, and why, might just come up with some really good ideas.
A good communication strategy should take account of the following:
All phases of the change programme, from the purpose, initiation to evaluation. It might be useful to see the project as having stages of ‘unfreezing’, ‘implementing’ and ‘consolidation’.
Early on, people will need to know about the stimuli for change (the so-called ‘burning platform’), the purposes, and the rough timescale. Later they should be told about progress, implications for them, successes and difficulties in implementing the changes. Towards the end communicate more on progress, evidence that benefits are truly being delivered, and ‘celebrate’ the success.
There will be different constituencies within the organisation, whose information needs will be quite different.
People differ in terms of their ‘Thinking Styles’ and personality, so one single communication in one single style and medium will at best only satisfy a small segment of the intended population.
Hence, repetition will be necessary – the same basic message but conveyed in different ways over time.
Some information will be confidential – at least for a time – but the risk is that senior managers will resist being open for far longer than is necessary or even sensible (people will probably have found out by other means!)
Face to face, with genuine dialogue, is the richest way of communicating.
The written word remains in people’s possession and can be referred back to later, when memories of what was said start to get distorted. So use both face to face and written, whenever possible.
A good strategy involves many people in communicating, after the initial ‘announcements’ (typically through several layers of management/supervision). Properly briefed they can do much to scotch rumours, repeat the basic message, and feed back people’s concerns and ideas.
Developing the strategy
The starting point for any communications plan is a clear and agreed understanding of the vision and objectives for the change programme or business activity.
It’s important to phrase the vision and objectives as simply as possible and highlight the key messages you want to get across.
Decide on the aims for your communication programme. What is it that you want to achieve? Do you want to promote understanding or encourage involvement? Is your communication programme going to be geared at getting business messages across, or at gathering feedback to define the change process?
Think about principles, or standards for communication. You may want to debate and commit to principles for communication. For example, that communication will be open and honest, based on fact rather than speculation etc.
Who are your key audiences or stakeholder groups? Group people with similar communications needs (and preferences) together where possible. Adapt your core message and materials to the needs of different groups.
Match the key messages you wish to get across to appropriate communications processes and activities.
a) Every communications plan should have a face-to-face communications process
at its heart. This may be as simple as an informal conversation, or a more structured discussion.
b) This face-to-face process can be supplemented with ‘mass’ communications
tools, such as videos, newsletters and e-mail, but these are impersonal and hardly ever watched/read by everyone.
c) Low cost, tailored communications materials can be developed for smaller
audience groups. Memos, notice boards, voice mail etc are all effective ways of getting certain messages across.
d) Use existing communications processes wherever possible. There is a great
deal of resistance to one-off glossy flyers, which can appear sanitised and non-businesslike.
Decide who is going to lead the communication process and assign responsibility.
Think about how you will measure the success, or otherwise, of the internal communications plan. For example, checking understanding of key messages.
Design a communications calendar which specifies what you will be doing and when. Ensure it is agreed with all those who will be leading the communications process. Keep this up to date as the plan progresses.
Final y, don’t assume that because you have communicated something that is has been understood. Review, refine and reinforce – and perhaps most importantly, communicate in the language of the recipient.
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