Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Does your change have a voice?

We live in a world where you cannot escape multiple forms of communication. From TV, radio, roadside adverts, jingles and now social media like twitter, it seems like everyone is communicating. But it doesn't always seem that way in the workplace. One of the biggest issues for most employees, particularly during change, is lack of communication.

When I work with clients on a change programme I always advocate for the creation of a communication strategy. Like all strategies the aim is to give clarity and guidance and to help managers make decisions around their communications through the length of the programme. Wherever I can I take the clients managers through my ‘leading through change’ workshop so that they understand why communication is vital to the success of any change.

Armed with a strategy and tuned to why then need one you always hope that it flows from there.
It often doesn't, so thought I would share some of the things that I have come across that affect or limit the benefit of communication during change.

The ‘Tell’ based strategy:
For some organisations and managers communication style can seem like form of instruction: it goes something like ‘I will tell you something, you will listen to me, then you go off and do it’. This results is a one way approach to building a communication strategy which ends up built around town hall announcements and e-mail notifications. With this form of communication strategy it is often a surprise to the organisation when they don’t get the result they were looking for. I hear ‘but I gave them the new way of working with the announcement, so why aren't they doing it?’
The thing about change is that most people struggle with the lack of control that can come with a feeling that it is being ‘done to you’. That is bad enough without the communication strategy actually saying quite clearly that it is! Change is delivered through the capturing of hearts and minds (we left the whips and chains behind after we finished building the pyramids). Feedback and involvement are therefore vital aspects of your comms strategy to minimise the feeling of lack of control that the individual has, and the engaging of their heart and mind to follow the direction you are giving them.

“There’s nothing to say yet’:
The key to this one is the word ‘yet’. Many managers struggle to communicate unless a decision has been made or when a key milestone has been completed. For some it is a need to be ‘right’ (or maybe not to be wrong) and for others they find it hard to write or talk unless it is ‘factual’. This results in large gaps of non communication. These gaps are filled by rumour, gossip and ultimately with worry. People can imagine the worst very easily. If you've told them that change is about to happen and then say very little it is only natural to assume that what you are planning is not good for them (if it was you’d say, right?).
Change is a journey, so your strategy should reflect that and once you've started to communicate, continue to do so.

The CEO as sole communicator:
In most organisations of any scale there are many managers and lots of hierarchy. Whether the change is structural or cultural it requires leaders to lead at all levels. If the change is structural and across the whole company, every division, department and team will have a leader who needs to make the structure work. If its culture change you are looking for, then its the local leader and their approach that will make the culture work or not.
So why would all the communication come solely from the CEO? Is the CEO the only one with answers? The only one that knows what happens? In control of everything? You've got to hope that's not true, even if they were brought in to make changes.
A good change communication strategy should have a role for every manager and the delivery will role out through every manager. The communication should be from the leadership of the business (with occasional keynotes at key points by the CEO when necessary). That way you re-enforce the managers as managers when the change is complete. If not then it wont be a surprise if nothing ever happens until the CEO says so.

The 'Big Bang & Fizzle'
Some organisations are great at starting things. A big launch, red carpets, fanfares, handouts, lots of promises and then…….well that's it! Nothing else is said. No updates, no debate, no engagement, no recognising quick wins, no celebration of success, no nothing. Needless to say that's often the real result too!
If you get your organisation used to this style they will very soon become sceptical of any big announcement. In fact they become sceptical of any announcement. Why would anyone believe you if you did’t really follow through on the previous one, don’t show the results that you promised and didn't deliver. The stock market wouldn't believe you so why would your internal stake-holders?

The big launch is great if you have something you want to get people excited about so that they take a punt and come on the ride with you. But there has to be a ride to get on to. You need follow through and often that's just reminding people that the change is still happening, that you are getting there and the results are starting to come. Its less fun, less exciting but its sometime’s it's the less thrilling parts of change that make it stick.

So give your change a voice, in fact give it multiple voices, managers and staff, and just like the current social media trend get them all talking all the way from the start of your change until the end.