Don’t do this if you want change
Tags: change communication , forandringskommunikation
3 classic pitfalls of change communication
A constant state of change seems to be the new normal in many industries and businesses. And so it should be with all that is rapidly changing in technology, society, and the market place. Communicating change should be an absolute top priority for most executives. However, the discipline is difficult to master. Here are three typical mistakes to avoid:
1. Get right to “the how”
You’ve spent months going over the numbers, listening to those expensive consultants, and finally persuading the board of the right strategy. Now it’s time to get to work! The first thing everybody on the floor of your organization hears will be: “Now this is what we are going to do”. The “how” in any change process, obviously, is important. But often even the most seasoned top executives neglect sharing the “why” with everybody first. “Why” is strategy, “how” is execution, right? Wrong. Harvard professor John Kotter in his seminal work “Leading change” emphasizes eight steps in successful change – and the first step is to establish a sense of urgency. Then you recruit a change coalition across the organization. Then you formulate a vision for where the change is going to lead you. His fifths step is communicating this vision. Notice how we haven’t gotten to the details of how the change is going to happen yet? That’s right – change needs to be primed and the time and efforts needed to do so are too often grossly underestimated.
2. Forget about homo economicus
“I don’t know why it didn’t work. We had a plan, everybody nodded, we kept repeating what we wanted”. If this sentiment sounds familiar, maybe somebody in the change process forgot that it’s not all about communication. Words are important, but we must not forget that the organization, employees, and all other stakeholders respond to more than just our words. The respond to the tone of voice, to the body language – even what you don’t say. But very importantly they also respond to behavioral cues as we know well from performance management theories. Too often, companies roll out fancy new strategies communicating bold new visions expecting radical changes in employee behavior, but neglect updating their incentive schemes, or changing what or who is praised in the organization. If you want to improve customer experience for example, then publicly rewarding those who do a fantastic job at just that is far more effective than giving another visionary pep talk town hall meeting in front of a dozing company-wide audience. Rewards can be money, but they can also be new opportunities, more autonomy, or simply honest praise. Without sounding like a Marxist – just be aware that if you don’t change anything in the fundamental “economy” of the organization, but only in the way you talk about things, you shouldn’t expect major behavioral change. Strong change communication can enforce changes in your organization – not replace them.
3. Dance the limbo
Change processes suck up a lot of energy and resources in any complex organization. Managing change often becomes a matter of enforcing a razor-sharp and very exclusive focus on the key changes needed for the project to be successful – at the expense of other projects. That makes sense, but often it can leave a big part of the organization on standby or in a state of limbo. “Interesting project, but it will have to wait, because we need to focus on project Moon-landing” becomes the argument that can put any new idea on the backburner. Again, there is nothing wrong with prioritizing or having a clear, strategic focus. Of course not. But if we want agile organizations and constant development rather than a stop-and-go approach to change, leaders should avoid letting too much of their organization dance the limbo.
Consider how you can include and engage everybody in the organization.
I may just be the receptionist, but what is my role going to be?
Think of the Japanese term “Kaizen”, which is a philosophy of continuous improvement. Pioneered by Toyota, the approach is often used within manufacturing, but in many ways the idea of change as the sum of many small improvements should inspire us far more broadly. How can your change communication be a little more Japanese inspired? Well, try to consider how you can include and engage everybody in the organization. I may just be the receptionist, but what is my role going to be? There is a tipping-point for cultural transformation, something popularized by the influential writer Malcolm Gladwell. The more you get on board, the more influencers enforce the change, and the more it will stick. Also, when looking at change as many little victories, it becomes easier to celebrate progress, something that is also emphasized in Kotter’s change model. Short-term wins are great for moral and the top executive should be an engaging story-teller with an ever-evolving reservoir of anecdotes.
At Mannov, we assist companies with their change communication from devising a strategy to the daily internal communication. We train CEOs to become better at leading change and telling the motivating stories that inspire and keep their organization moving forward.