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Friday, 26 July 2013 07:36

5 Essentials of Change Communication

You can never be too good at this 


During the change management process, communication is essential. Done well, it can drive a business initiative's success; done poorly, it can undermine the entire process. It's almost impossible to communicate too much, but it is possible to communicate the wrong way or to send the wrong message.

Here are the 5 essentials of great change communication:

1.  Communicate, communicate, communicate!

During a change process, communicate early, often, and with a purpose.  Have a goal for every communication:  To inform, excite or to generate feedback.  (It's best to have one goal per communication.)

Remember, not everyone is going to hear everything you say, the first time.  People will absorb one or two key messages, but not everything.  Follow up each communication with a recap in a different medium (email isn't the only channel!).  Plan to be in touch in different ways, but remember that face-to-face - or face-to-many-faces, as the case may be - is best for fresh news.

2.  Tell people more than they expect to hear

Most people expect to hear a lot of 'doubletalk' and non-information from corporate communications.  Confound these expectations by being as specific as possible, and by providing more information than they expected.  (It's also okay to tell people you have nothing new to tell them, but that you just wanted to keep them up-to-date on the progress of the business initiative.)

3.  Never tell people that things could be worse

I once sat in a room where downsizings had been announced, in which an executive stood up to say "It could be worse - we could be laying off a lot more people..."

Every person in that room already thought they were going to lose their job; they didn't care whether the layoff was going to be 300 or 3000 people.  Senior management looked callous and uncaring, and productivity plummeted.

Meanwhile, another executive sent out a voicemail congratulating her team because the business initiative that had been announced was ahead of schedule.  This would have been all right except that what that meant - and what people heard - was that the planned layoffs were ahead of schedule as well.  No damage control efforts could fix the negative business impact this single voicemail caused.

4.  Be sincere, be yourself - but know your credibility level

Don't try to be someone you aren't.  If you usually have a formal style, be formal; if you're usually casual, be casual.  A change in tone will cause confusion and mistrust.  During a change, it's the little things that can derail progress - and consistency will go a long way to reassuring employees.

Be honest with yourself about the level of credibility you have within the organization, and make decisions accordingly.  If you don't know your credibility level, it's best to find out before you start announcing any business transformation efforts.

5.  Don't lie - especially by omission

I always tell executives:  You always know when your kids are lying to you - and your employees always know when you are lying to them.  Every time you lie, your credibility takes a huge hit and it's almost impossible to ever regain that trust.

The biggest lies executives tell are lies by omission:  You know something is going to happen and you just don't mention it.  Keep in mind that you've hired intelligent people to work for you, and they'll know if you're leaving information out.  Yes, sometimes there is information that you can't share.  Find a way to share what you can, and find a way to let people know that as soon as you can share more information, you will.  And then follow through.




Part 2 of 2:  It's all about balance

Last time, we talked about the importance of balancing culture and strategy, and what happens when they get out of balance.


After Shawn Parr wrote his (somewhat polarizing) piece, 'Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch', he followed it up with 'Don't Let Culture Vultures Scuttle Your Strategy', in which he clarified that he did, in fact, believe in the marriage of culture + strategy.

One of the most salient lines in the second piece was this:

"Strategy is rational and culture is emotional."

And here we have the essence of great change management.  In order to properly balance culture and strategy, you must recognize that while plans on paper may be entirely rational, they are ultimately carried out by people - who tend to operate emotionally.

Example:  Company B

Company B is just emerging from some very hard years - or at least they thought they were.  Only a few months ago, they were talking about how rosy their future looked, but now they're back to trying to figure out how to make their numbers.  Their 'engagement survey' results have never looked better, but somehow that hasn't translated into increased sales.

What does this really mean for Company B?

Well, it means that the people working within the organization are probably feeling like they've been on a roller-coaster ride for the past couple of years.  One day they think they're 'safe'; the next, they're getting the message that they're in jeopardy.  They're unclear what the strategy should be, and their not confident that the decisions they're making are the right ones.  In other words, they're caught between behaving rationally and behaving emotionally.

How the right change management approach can help

Balancing the rational and emotional elements of change management involves 3 key factors:

  • Establishing a core business strategy
  • Acknowledging the emotional implications or the existing situation and for the imminent change process - for the individual and the organizational culture
  • Ensuring consistency over time, even as change is happening

Establishing a core business strategy addresses the need for a 'rational' goal that everyone can get behind; acknowledging the emotional implications addresses the culture growing pains that will occur; and ensuring consistency alleviates the uncertainty engendered by the previous 'roller-coaster ride' that was preventing forward movement.

I do sometimes enjoy a great infographic - it's amazing how a different format can sometimes help you to see information in a whole new way.

Today I noticed an interesting infographic from OneSpring about managing big projects, and thought I'd share it.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter at @BethBanksCohn!


PART 1 of 2:  It's all about balance

A few weeks ago, FastCompany blogger Shawn Parr wrote a post entitled 'Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch'.  It was a great headline which got a lot of attention, and it seemed to imply that culture alone, if done well, can almost obviate the need for strategy.  The theory is that when the organization - and the employees - are actively living the company's values, vision and goals on a daily basis, strategy will somehow take care of itself.

In fact, it's a combination of culture + strategy that wins the day.  However, while studies show there is a direct correlation between a healthy, productive culture and a company's bottom line, the majority of companies spend little time thinking, let alone doing anything about, this topic - even when they're spending lots of time thinking about their business strategy.

Example: Company A

Company A is making money in spite of itself.  They have wonderful products but just can't seem to find a way to manufacture and ship them consistently. Sales keeps on selling and then demanding that Operations deliver; Operations feels like the neglected stepchild but can't seem to find a way to manage and meet the demand.  There's so much internal infighting and drama that sometimes it's hard to remember exactly what the goals really are.

What's wrong with this organization?  Is it strategy, culture, or both?

Organizational analysts could go crazy trying to figure out what the problem could be because there isn't a clear answer - at first.  The complexity is mind-boggling, and undermines any solutions put forward.  Is there an easier way?


Looking at the symptoms from a higher level, a possible picture begins to emerge.  It's all about balancing culture and strategy.

Company A is making money and their sales force is clearly connected to the customer.  But a strategic emphasis on sales, to the detriment of operations, is undermining their progress.  At the same time, a 'blame culture' has emerged which is making the infighting acceptable.

The corporate culture and strategy are out of balance.  It's not uncommon for companies with the best of intentions to focus on one area or another, but balance is what delivers business results.

Balance can be looked at simply, as in the balance between an External Focus and an Internal Focus.  It can also be looked at as a balance between Adaptability, Mission, Consistency and Involvement.

The Denison Culture Model, below, shows the different elements of culture.  To be considered a high-performing culture, and as a result a high-performing organization, a company needs to consider all four quadrants in order to succeed.



A balance between Adaptability and Mission (which supports the External Focus) and Involvement and Consistency (which supports the Internal Focus) is crucial.  Growth requires high levels of Adaptability and Mission but operating, performance and quality require high levels of Involvement and Consistency.  Innovation and customer satisfaction is about marrying Involvement with Adaptability.  Stable performance over time shows the joining of Mission and Consistency.

PART 2:  Rational vs Emotional

Page 11 of 11


Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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