Change communication sucks. Most official internal communication is slick and polished. It aligns with the visual brand guidelines, it has been checked for spelling mistakes. It looks perfect.

But in change communication the quest for perfection becomes a problem.

Why slick sucks

Let me explain. When things are changing you are also asking employees to change the way they think and behave. Right? Well for that to happen you have to engage them – make them feel their contribution is needed (and I hope there IS a way for them to contribute – but that’s a topic for another post).

Unfortunately slick visuals (stock photos and iconography – I’m looking at you) and polished written materials communicate the opposite: they signal that everything has been decided. Maybe you even hired some communication company to produce a cool video with snazzy graphics and high production values.

Do you know how employees might interpret that? Here’s one potential interpretation:
 “Ooh, I bet that cost a lot. They wouldn’t have produced that video if we could still influence things”.

In other words it accidentally signals that you are running a tick box exercise: I communicated message X to the employees – tick!

It makes the audience switch off, it lulls them into a passive mode. It signals business as usual.

But change is not business as usual.

“Perfection is the enemy of engagement”

If you want people to contribute and participate you should aim to produce something that looks a bit rougher, something that signals that things are not set in stone.

I once did a presentation on the topic of drawn communication to a design/management consultancy and someone there said they use the same tactic: they call it communicating at the “appropriate level of fidelity”. They actively make prototypes look a bit crappier so that the client focuses on the right things. When you want people to focus on ideas – on how things work, on the solutions – you do NOT show anything slick. That makes the client focus on the graphics, the surface.

Don’t make your employees focus on the surface. Make them engage with the IDEAS behind the content.

Hand drawn line lowers the threshold for participation

Drawings and drawn storytelling are a pretty good way to invite your employees to think and engage with you. There is something about the hand drawn line that says: hey, it’s just a drawing – you can still change things, you are invited to think about this. Low quality photos can have the same effect.

The wobblier the line the better. (This is one reason I tend to avoid vector graphics – they make things look too smooth).

Drawings can communicate the abstract

Most change is at least partly about abstraction: new processes, new strategies, new markets etc.

That can present a problem for video or photos. Can you take a photo of the pension scheme? The new solution? No, but you can draw it – thanks to visual metaphors. Try producing a video on the topic and chances are you end up with a boring talking head clip that explain nothing.

Fast and flexible

Comics, narrative infographics etc are usually much faster to produce than slick videos so they are better suited for faster paced communication where change is a constant.

And they can be used flexibly (you can reuse the images in presentations, animations, posters, mugs).

But where are all the change communication people..?

I’ve mostly worked with change management consultants and people responsible for internal change programmes – not with communications. In fact they are not even involved in these projects. When I ask why this is the case I get a dismissive “they slow us down”. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way?

Virpi Oinonen


A version of this post was first posted on the All Things IC blog.