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The Challenge of Communicating Change: Leveraging Visual Communication​

Effectively communicating change to your team is no easy task.

Most change advice will emphasise the importance of communication, and we’re firmly of the same opinion. The cornerstone in any change activity is communicate, communicate, communicate: it’s almost impossible to ever share too much or too frequently when delivering change. Where we put the emphasis, however, is that we believe what’s really important is communicating in the RIGHT way.

Often, organisations underestimate the level, type, style, or frequency of communication needed to bring their teams on board, and even more so when the degree of change is significant.

When introducing a new strategy, a complex process or developing a new corporate vision you may hear people say, “You need to draw me a diagram so I know how it all fits together”. Or if you’re encountering some resistance to change you may have someone say, “Hmm, can you sketch out how that would work”.

All of which may mean you need more than just the written or verbal word to help people engage with your plan for change.

And that’s where you can leverage the power of visual communication.

What is visual communication and why should you care?

Visual communication involves translating data or information into visual formats such as graphs, charts, icons, video, rich pictures and infographics. Its purpose is to make complex concepts more accessible to the human brain.

When faced with the challenge of communicating change to your team, here’s why visual communication is so powerful:

  • Our Brain’s Preference: studies show that 90% of information processed by the brain is visual. Our brains process images a staggering 60,000 times faster than text.
  • Improved Recall: when information is presented visually, we can recall up to 65% of it three days later, compared with only 10% when presented in text alone.

In summary, visual communication not only accelerates understanding but we also remember it better.

And there’s more.

Benefits of visual communication:

  • Attention-Grabbing: visual elements capture attention, aid understanding and maintain engagement; sustaining commitment during what may be a long change event.

  • Greater Collaboration: decision-making benefits from shared visual representations unlock collaboration between decision-makers.

  • Buy-In and Adoption: they increase the likelihood of buy-in and encourage the adoption of new processes by making the solutions easier to understand.

  • Consistent Message: visuals provide an evolving and consistent message, facilitating honest two-way communication about ongoing changes.

  • Time-efficient: visual communications can express more in less time than text alone, and you’ll quickly determine whether your messages are being heard, and – critically – whether you’re listening to your people.

  • Embrace Workforce Diversity: across generations, varied learning styles, cultures and languages a skilfully-crafted visual communication bridges gaps and swiftly leads to a shared understanding.

“Businesses that fail to invest in more visual ways of communicating internally ultimately will struggle to educate and engage employees.”

Wendy Hamilton, CEO, TechSmith

Apply visual communication to communicating change

Because we understand its importance we introduce visual communications at various stages of every change implementation with our 3 keys to successful change approach… here’s a snapshot:

  1. People engagement: using our IMAGINE tool
    • We have found that using graphic artists to support the visualisation of the end state is a powerful part of the change journey. We use graphic facilitation and the development of “rich pictures” as a way of bringing visions to life, both within workshops and as a lasting way of communicating the change.
  1. Culture and behaviour change: using our MANIFEST tool
    • Deriving a set of value statements, or a behavioural charter, or even putting them on the wall, doesn’t result in culture change. We know that the biggest changes come from the smallest changes, but organisations often forget the smaller day-to-day changes that are highly visible and make change real.
  1. Change delivery and prioritisation: using our VISUALISE tool
    • Simple visualisations of plans and progress. We have an armoury of simple ways of describing complex change, and we encourage you to translate your change programme into simple articulations to communicate change to yourselves and others.

Here’s an example of where we’ve deployed our visual communication activities and driven effective change:

An exampe of the application of visual communications in change events

If you’re leading change initiatives you’ll likely want to know how to apply visual communication. Here’s some key pointers:

1. Choose the Right Moments for Visuals:

Not all information requires visual communication. However, consider using visual tools for:

§ Process Translation: simplify processes by creating checklists or roadmaps.

§ Complex Ideas: transform complex ideas into concise visual statements or metaphors. You may find developing a rich picture a highly collaborative and engaging way to share your ideas.

§ Big-Picture Thinking: break down overarching concepts into more easily digestible weekly and monthly actions.

The easier it is for employees to follow new processes, the less resistance they’ll offer. After all, we’re all guilty of taking the path of least resistance, especially if something new feels uncomfortable and demands more time and effort.

2.  Define Your Desired Outcome:

Consider your audience when presenting information and this will help you create visuals to support communicating change. Ask yourself:

      • What’s Essential?: identify crucial information for the idea being communicated and make sure this point is what you focus on through all the different ways of communicating.
      • Desired Action: do you want them to grasp a new concept quickly, adopt a step-by-step process or something else?

What you want your team to do with the information will then determine the format you should use to create your visual. Use the appropriate format to reinforce important points. For example:

      • You want your team to remember important information – try one-pagers, word clouds, or infographics. 
      • You want to communicate a process change – use a checklist, a process flow, a written process with screenshots or graphics, or a video walkthrough.
      • You want to remind your team of an important change – consider rich pictures, banners, posters, flyers, screen-savers, promotional pens, pads, mugs, coasters, hats…
      • You want to communicate an organisational change – consider a simple PowerPoint complete with handouts covering the main information in conjunction with other communication activities.

Visual communication isn’t just about pretty graphics; it’s a powerful tool for effective communication. You want your people to remember the key messages of your change long after you’ve said it. Visual communication does this better than many other forms of communication. So, embrace it, and watch your team embrace change more readily.

Remember to include visually impaired team members in your visual communications

Technology has come a long way and visual communications can also include alternate text and as, challenging as it might be, consider audio description and tactile imagery options too.

Be descriptive. Expressing the content of a visual communication should go beyond the factual; express images through all senses to bring them alive for your visually impaired team members.

Visual communication is key when implementing change to your organisation

Change is hard, especially when we all have a full schedule and many daily responsibilities, so it’s understandable why so many employees resist it when the status quo is so comfortable.

With that being said, however, change is inevitable. It’s necessary for sustainable growth and resilience, and it needs all hands on deck to be implemented successfully.

If you’re having issues communicating change to your team, consider implementing visualisation in your communications and add clarity to any complex situation.

If you understand your team, their concerns, and what is relevant to them, you can create impactful communications that will get them onboard. Remember, it’s all about communicating and doing so in the right way.

From a recent client

“Having recently used JA Consulting to develop a Rich Picture for our team, I was impressed with how quickly the JA team got to grips with the subject matter and their ability to synthesise information accurately. There were great levels of communication throughout the tasking and all deadlines were hit. Most importantly we were delighted with the final output from the JA team; would highly recommend.”

Defence client

You may find the following resources valuable when considering visual communication:

How to Communicate Change. Whelan, J., The Chartered Institute for IT 3 Aug 2020.  https://www.bcs.org/articles-opinion-and-research/how-to-communicate-change/

Visual Communication and Organisational Change Interdisciplinary Approaches Linking Arts, Communication and Management. Roberts-Bowman, S., 2015: https://researchportal.northumbria.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/20950720/Bowman_Visual_Communication_and_Organisational_Change.pdf

Leadership and the New Science, Discovering Order in a Chaotic World. Wheatley, M. J.: Berrett-Koehler, 2006

The Value of Visuals: A Business Case for Visual Communication in the Workplace. Hamilton, W., 2018 https://assets.techsmith.com/resources/Value-of-Visuals.pdf


Caroline Gowing

Email: carolinegowing@jaconsulting.co.uk

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/carolinegowinggreenslade

About Caroline Gowing – Caroline is an expert sustainability and change management consultant delivering successful change across Defence, wider corporate business, and the charity sector for the past twenty years. 

A highly competent strategy and change management facilitator Caroline is able to work with an individual or group to draw out their understanding of a problem and solution and then take this forward in a way that can be easily understood, persuasively communicated and attractively presented.


And a final thought

At JA Consulting we help drive sustainable change; to work with you to take theory and put it into practice. With the right support and guidance, change can become a seamless and straightforward process that yields long-term results.

Want to make change happen for you? Our team is waiting and ready to help.