We were brought in to help a client with a change management project that wasn’t going as well as expected. The project involved process change and new technologies. It also changed how people did their daily jobs. It was uncomfortable for many, but the end zone was promised to deliver simplicity and time. People were stressed despite understanding that the change was necessary.
Anyone who’s been through a change management experience is likely nodding in agreement right now. Nothing new here, right? Change is difficult for anyone, and many change management projects hit bumps in the road. What is new is that beyond the most senior leaders in this organization, the rest of the leadership team doesn’t understand the true stress of the change that’s underway, nor have they bought into the change.Now perhaps some of the nodding has stopped. How can a company invest the resources required for something like this when the full leadership team either isn’t on board or engaged? The answer involves a misstep in leadership communications, and that’s where we came in. Senior leadership had decided it was best to not offer consistent updates, insights, or dialogue opportunities about the change that was underway. They didn’t share the bumps in the road as teams around the world were hitting them. They also didn’t provide context around progress, and remind their peers about the end zone. That’s where things went wrong.
At Winning Presence, we have been involved with or led many communications projects involving change management in the past few years alone. The missteps in this organization, mostly driven by the leadership team, are more common than you might think. It’s easier to keep moving forward, believing that stress is normal in times of change, and hoping it will take care of itself. We know, however, that this approach can have lasting effects on employee morale and productivity. It can erode trust between leaders and employees. This recent experience is a great reminder of the need for strategic leadership communications in times of change, and specifically the following:
- A solid plan that includes a series of checkpoints with a variety of audiences, including leadership.
- Messages that remind people, in an honest, authentic way, of why we’re on this journey and what it will ultimately mean to the business; including acknowledgement of the true difficulty of the road so people aren’t surprised. Many people actually expect times to be tough during massive change, so acknowledging this fact will build trust and credibility. Simple, honest messages like “It’s going to get harder before it gets easier” or “This is going to take time in order for us to feel the benefits” will go a long way.
- Strong leadership presence who consistently articulates the messaging and demonstrates any behavior change.
- Engagement. People need the opportunity to dialogue, share, learn from each other, feel they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing, and hear how others are succeeding or addressing common challenges. Technology gives us the opportunity to enable collaboration, and should be leveraged before, during and following the change.
- An understanding that “must-do”, transactional communications aren’t the same as leadership communications. This is a common mistake that we see in change management initiatives. Those leading the change focus on a calendar of “pushed” communications that tell people what’s going to happen. What’s often lost is the messaging around why we’re doing this, what it’s going to feel like as we go through it together, and a simple “thank you” for patience and commitment.
- Dissecting the audiences and targeting messages for each. This is particularly important in a matrix’d organization where there needs to be many voices, one message.
Change is difficult for any organization. We have helped many leaders and companies successfully navigate and communicate complex change. Leadership and employee communications are crucial to not only executing the changes, but helping people feel part of the organization in the future.