Photography: Menno van der Bijl

... is a TOPdesk consultant specialized in change management and TOPdesk eHRM.

You are implementing an internal change that will impact how many of your colleagues work every day. How can you make sure they remain informed and support the project? The media richness theory provides a framework to ensure your project is a success.
‘Communicating is removing uncertainty’
It is essential that your employees have the right information and support the new working methods in order for the project to succeed. The project group is focused on the project, so it is less aware of the others’ need for information. If you do not involve the other employees, they will not see the point of the project, and feel uncertain about how it will affect them. Good communication helps you inform the employees, exerting a positive influence on their willingness to change. In other words, communication plays an important role in successfully managing internal changes. A personal conversation is a typically rich medium, while a news item is lean. Each has different properties and benefits. In a conversation, you can adjust the message to the person you are speaking to. It also offers more chances to influence behaviour, but speaking to all employees is time-intensive. A news litem lets you reach a large number of people quickly and with only a little effort. However, you cannot be sure that people will read it, and they cannot respond directly. you should select a medium suited to the complexity of the message. The more difficult the message and the more uncertainties it may arouse among employees, the richer the medium must be. But what determines the ‘richness’? departments. This is an example of a complex message, because it has a large impact on the employees’ work, and there are many different possible interpretations of how the merge will be performed. Such a situation requires a rich medium. If the message is clearer, you can use leaner media. An email or news item lets you communicate quickly and clearly about upcoming activities, for instance.

Communication moments per project phase
During each project phase, the employee has a different need for information. To achieve clear and effective communication, utilize a mix of rich and lean media. The following examples illustrate how you can keep employees involved and up to date.

Complexity and media richness
You can use various channels to communicate about the project, ranging from a personal conversation to a news item. The media richness theoryi posits that

A medium for every message
Suppose that you have to explain to your employees that you are merging two

Phase 1 | the start of the project
It is clear that the project will have a large impact, leading to many questions arising


Level of media richness



Level of complexity


among your colleagues. The communication goal is informing and convincing people of the use and necessity of the project. A rich medium is suited to this task. During a communal kick-off, everyone receives the same information, and has the opportunity to ask questions.

preparations, the project can be implemented within your organization. Employees are expected to actively take part, because they have to include the new way of working in their daily tasks. A combination of rich and lean media ensures that all employees receive and retain the information. The project group can provide personal instructions and answer questions during a workshop. You can also celebrate the project launch with your employees to enhance their sense of involvement. TOPdesk customer: “Luckily we received printouts of the procedures, so we could consult them at a later date.”

success stories. A lean medium such as a newsletter is ideal for communicating reports and experiences. TOPdesk customer: “I was proud of our department when I read that we already had our first good results in the first month.”

Phase 2 | implementing the plan
The project framework is clear. Nevertheless, things take surprising turns, or take longer than expected. Employees appreciate receiving periodic updates on the project’s progress. This can easily be achieved through a lean medium such as a news item or mailing. TOPdesk customer: “We received an update every two weeks. I did not read it that often, but the email was a sign of how open they were to us.”

Communication is a precondition
Your colleagues need different information in each project phase. This is why communication plays such an important role in successfully managing internal changes. The media richness theory helps you determine whether a rich or a lean medium is best suited to your message. Using a mixture of both is best, so remember: make sure to use variation in your communication.
Daft, R.L. & Lengel, R.H. Organizational information requirements, media richness and structural design. Management Science 32(5), 554-571.

Phase 4 | the first results
Things may run smoothly once you have implemented the new working method, but you could also run into some bumps that need smoothing out. In such cases, it is advisable to celebrate the project’s first

Phase 3 | kicking off
Now the project group has completed the