Kati Laine-Kokki: Change consultants localize changes

As a change consultant I work quite often with producing and translating material in bilingual versions. I am fascinated by the fact that things are expressed differently in different languages. In addition to the fact that grammar and language structures do not always bend to the same form as in the original language, editing content for comprehension is always influenced by history, environment, shared experiences, and other characteristics of the culture in question.

As change consultants, we are often in a translation or, to be precise, localisation situation: a change project needs to be made understandable for those who will hear about it. This adaptation of the change content will not succeed unless the starting point is clear. That is why we start change projects by mapping out in detail what the change is all about. We need to know what is changing, why and how and whose work will change. Everyone involved in the change must have a common understanding of with what they are working. Only then it will make sense to plan how the change is implemented.

In change communication, it is important to use the same language as the target group

When we start to communicate, the goal is for us to talk about the change so that the recipient understands us. Ultimately, communicating about change is very much localisation: it involves a great deal of adapting the meaning of the change to each target group.

In a way, we should be speaking the same language. Naturally, we do not speak all possible languages ​​and dialects (nor company jargon), but it is easier to make your message understood if you are aware of the differences in expressing ideas between, say, the way Finnish is spoken in different parts of Finland, or the way French is used in various geographical locations around the world. Even a company’s internal jargon can vary according to location. By speaking the same language, I mean that we tell people in various roles concretely what is expected from them and how they are expected to behave in the change.

Shape up your change story

The ingredients for a change story are generated during the change mapping and definition phase. A change story is the story about what happens in a change. It is not a fairy tale, as my colleague Minna Kivimäki has once said in her blog (unfortunately only in Finnish), but is, in fact, at the core of a change. It helps when telling people about the change.

The body of the change story should be the same for everyone involved in the change. The same content can – and should – be tailored to each speaker, and for each audience. The change story is often fine-tuned depending on our target audience during the change process. This detailing may include organizing new workshops to find out what change means for this specific target group and right now. Regular review and updating of the story for each target group will ensure that understanding is also maintained, and the change will last.

And, as with any communication, it pays off to test whether the message is understood as desired. In change communication, only the effect of the message, how it is understood and what its impact is, is relevant to the result.