Leadership creating desire in change management

Effective (i.e. engaging, relevant, compelling) communication is imperative if change management is to occur successfully, with leaders at all levels crucial in ensuring this occurs. Importantly, communication is inextricably entwined in the desire stage of change, as defined by the leading change management ADKAR model*.

Change management communication

Supporting this assertion is research undertaken by a leading change management model which determined the greatest contributor to change success is active and visible executive sponsorship. Inherent within ‘sponsorship’ is communicating with those leading the change, as well as those being directly impacted on by the change itself.

If you find this post of value, please share it through LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Google+ et al!

It is executives who are sought after by employees for big picture, context setting communication, while for information directly relevant to their specific roles it is the employee’s supervisor who is relied upon and has credibility in their eyes.

Five key change management steps

*In full, the five change management (ADKAR) components/steps as Prosci sees it are as follows:

  • Awareness – making those who going to experience the change aware of what will be occurring, why, and how it is relevant to them (WIIFM*)
  • Desire – galvanising change targets to welcome, want and embrace the change
  • Knowledge – giving those experiencing change the information which enables them to enact the change
  • Ability – similar to knowledge, this gives those enacting the change the capability to put it into practice
  • Reinforcement – reiterating the rationale for change, celebrating successes, addressing weaknesses before they become a disease which cripples the embedding of change.

Creating desire through change management

Communication is generally relied on as playing leading roles in the awareness and – often –  reinforcement stages of change. But there are two important caveats that come with this.

Firstly, as it is necessary for leaders to build desire within impacted employees for change, the importance of what is classically termed ‘communication’ during this phase cannot be underestimated. This includes the notion of ‘engagement’, which inherently means conversations, listening and empathising. These are fundamental characteristics of two-way symmetrical communication.

As the change ‘product’ will have already been determined by this stage, typical two-way symmetrical communication tools such as market research are likely to be of little benefit at this point, as the product will not change (sic) greatly. There are relatively minor factors such as speed of roll-out, however, which could feasibly evolve based on employee feedback.

As with any communication, if the ‘product’ can be adapted at all based on target audience needs and wants, the higher the propensity for buy-in (and its extension, advocacy).

How many change programs have the in-built capacity for modification after roll-out is instigated, however, is the moot point (and one which I’d love to hear from if any readers have information on this).

Research has also determined – surprise, surprise – the most effective form of communication in change management is face-to-face, while the most important messages contain information on the impact of change on the individual and why change is occurring.

This is all seemingly straightforward – and research tells us many who have led change would, next time around in change, have more communication, a more comprehensive communication strategy and communicate earlier – but what do you do when an area of the business is being impacted on by multiple change initiatives?

In this case, impacted leaders (those on the ‘ground’ in particular) and employees are at serious risk of change fatigue. Humans aren’t all that great at change anyway, so having multiple pressures from different sides regarding change is, clearly, going to make the embedding of change even more difficult.

The challenge for leadership in change management communication

Change management crystallises a major problem any organisation faces, that of when managers are barely competent at managing, let alone leading.

Leading requires empathy, walking the talk and interpersonal skills that are difficult to teach and often seem to come secondary to technical expertise and experience. So often we see managers appointed because of how excellent they are at their chosen professional field.

At this stage in organisational development, after the massive amount of experience we have in this field, I should think it is the people leadership dimension which is prioritised over the technical expertise dimension when it comes to appointing ‘bosses’.

Clearly, the manager of a particular business group needs to have an understanding of the work that group undertakes, but that group will never reach its potential if it is not managed effectively and, most importantly, provided with strong, purposeful leadership.

This is the sort of leadership that supports and inspires. It is leadership that concurs with organisational vision but adapts to the needs and wants of individual employees.

Within change management, the pressures on managers escalates. And the chief trait which is needed is contained in the word, sentiment, burden and opportunity of leadership. This is the trait which is most likely to facilitate the generation of desire (for change) within impacted employees.

Without it, change is a mechanical thing, one more akin to an alienating burden, rather than a relevant process leading to a personally meaningful outcome and commercially advantageous outcome.

Have you been involved in change programs that have had the in-built capacity for modification embedded into them? How have you seen leaders impact on the quality of a change outcome?

If you found this post of value, please share it through LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Google+ et al!

Cheerleading, customisation and storytelling: 3 pivotal axes of internal communication

Storytelling, the customisation of content and being an effective organisational cheerleader are critical axes of internal communication. Each of these are vital if we are to achieve internal communication nirvana: employees as an organisation’s number one brand advocate.

Communication nirvana

Customisation and target audiences in communication

As professional communicators we are always seeking to customise the message/content and the communication mechanisms/conduit to have the greatest impact on the target audience. In some ways, internal communication possesses greater challenges than external comms, as the target audience is often so small any significant expense cannot be justified on the basis of ROI.

This means, quite possibly, no grandiose launches, campaigns, gimmicks etc.

On the other hand, as interpersonal, face-to-face, leader-led communication is going to have the most impact almost every single time (internal comms or external comms), in theory internal comms should be much easier to get a result in than external comms.

Of course, this necessitates leadership buy-in and endorsement of the messaging and, without question, it means actively communicating this with teams, not just assuming they know it.

Other reasons why internal comms can hit some pretty big home runs these days includes:

  • Intranet – most employees will access the intranet on a daily basis. For employees in many organisations, when the browser is loaded up the intranet is right there in your face, making it the first port of call in work-related communication (not that this means all employees read its content, of course…)
  • Email – a very much abused and underestimated means of communication. How many times have you heard, well, if they don’t like it they can just delete it…? This is an attitude which contributes to the undermining of email as a useful communication mechanism (e.g. spam). The customisation of email lists can help alleviate this spamming attitude and make the communication approach relevant to as many employees as possible
  • Video – corporate communication teams are becoming increasingly adept at video production. Visual communication is a winner. ‘Moving picture’ visual communication is an even bigger winner. Simply extrapolate what’s driving social media usage into an internal context. No brainer, folks…
  • Photography – same as video, but less so, yet still extremely helpful in conveying information, giving a turbo boost to written and spoken communication and engaging with target audiences.

Don’t get me started on the laziness which can be exhibited by leaders when it comes to communication and the preference of many for images and video, however. The reliance some people have on visual communication poses the risk of subtlety, context and depth being lost in the communication mix.

I don’t think it is so much a symptom of the social media sharing age – i.e. images, video, punchlines with no narrative – as it is of information and responsibility overload. Quick wins and not taking responsibility for providing context and implications are bedevilling the competency of contemporary management.

If you find value in this post, please share it through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Storytelling for internal communication

Generating narratives with resonance and relevance for the entire organisation is a critical step in achieving:

  • an understanding of, and subscription to, the desired culture
  • an awareness of what the organisation actually does and why it is relevant to its external stakeholders
  • productivity and efficiency, including the outcome of employees staying longer at an organisation and so, therefore, reducing churn.

As a sage government relations expert ex-colleague of mine, Jason Froud, has said, “Culture is an amalgamation of stories.” An implication of this is that not every story has to resonate with every single employee, which is true. But for the bigger picture, the strategic direction if you will, to be clear to all employees there must be a common understanding of what the aspiration/objective of the organisation is.

It’s a paradox, but one which can be easily tolerated. The narratives relevant to only a few will often still have an approach, theme or sentiment which is encountered throughout multifarious stories. It could be something as uncomplicated (but important) as good customer service or telling the truth or having a positive attitude.

Good narratives help humanise an organisation, make it an entity which is people-driven and peoples’ values-driven, rather than one which is a corporate edifice and little else.

Internal public relations: always a cheerleader

The role of a communicator is by default that of a cheerleader. It is one of the terrific aspects of public relations; it focuses on the positive.

PR also identifies the potential negatives and develops approaches to help protect organisational reputation.

And the third, and potentially most important aspect of public relations is identifying perspectives and behaviours which are not aligned with the organisation, understanding this, then providing strategic counsel to the organisation which enables it to become more aligned with stakeholder (including employee) expectations. Ipso facto, changing the organisation, as well as changing stakeholders’ knowledge, opinions and behaviour.

The communicator needs to be careful when focusing on the positive that it is not being done in a manner which is so obvious as to be inane and saccharine-sweet. This could lead to literal, metaphorical and behavioural eye rolling – the actual undermining of organisational credibility rather than building it.

The other negative of focusing on the positive with a little too much gusto is if there is actually a seriously negative dimension to what is being discussed (e.g. redundancies, safety-related issues). This can lead to perceptions of spin or manipulation, which employees have a very sensitive nose for.

In fact, as employees are very intimate with an organisation’s business, it can be much more challenging dealing with some issues which require communication than in external comms.

One reason for this is the informal networks and relationships employees have across the business. It doesn’t take long for one piece of information to spread like wildfire through unofficial means. In many organisations, bosses will have strong relationships with those lower down the food chain than themselves, sharing information which shouldn’t really have been provided.

What is your experience in the use of video and imagery in internal communication – or even external for that matter? Is there a risk that context and fine detail is lost which then undermines the utility of the communication? How have you addressed the challenge of making storytelling relevant for the whole organisation when the stories can be particularly focused on one part of the business?

If you found value in this post, please share it through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Politics and influence: the furnace of internal communication

Identifying and leveraging influencers, just like with external communication, is a critical element of internal communication. Communicating within organisations is, in many ways, a compelling microcosm of external communication. The politics of people, however, can make it a much richer and more intense experience for professional communicators.

Reasons for this include:

  • target audiences for the communication are right there, in your face – forget six degrees of separation!
  • different leaders wanting communication to be undertaken in different ways – often involving communication timing and degrees of transparency – and with different content
  • the personal politics of positioning and careers.

People want to be perceived in a certain way. Put this in a professional context, where people work, and this want is deepened and made more complex. The natural desire to be liked and respected is made more important because careers and income generation enter the equation very strongly.

It is a cave man/survival/law of the jungle situation, which goes equally for both genders. Supporting families becomes a factor. Protecting your turf and ensuring there is a pathway to progress (or escape?) is an atavistic urge.

You can, however, combine the reflective, intellectualised capability of humans, especially well developed (one would hope) in the contemporary business environment – especially with leadership. But you still have conflict associated with each person wanting to, basically, ‘protect their turf’.

So in this complex, politicised context, it would be unwise to characterise internal communication as a lesser species than it’s better funded genetically related cousin with the bigger ego, external communication.

If you find value in this post, please share it through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Identifying and leveraging influencers for internal communication

Influencers are not necessarily bosses. And they are definitely not necessarily those which occupy the very top tiers of organisational leadership. And one reason for this is that those who are officially ‘leaders’ do not necessarily exhibit ‘leadership’.

I’ve discussed how face-to-face is, in nearly every context, going to be the most effective form of communication. The same goes for those being closest to you in the workplace having the greatest potential to influence your behaviour. So it makes sense leaders closer to individual employees are going to have a greater impact, in most cases, than those leaders further removed than them.

This is one reason why leader-led communication is so important. And why it is so important that top-tier leadership engages with lower level leaders to ensure messaging, storytelling and, most importantly, behaviour is consistent across the organisation. Behaviour relates to the:

  • competency and alacrity with which work is undertaken
  • way in which employees treat each other and external organisational stakeholders
  • the values and ethics of employees and how they apply them in the workplace.

There are plenty of employees who show leadership who are not leaders. They will have no one reporting to them, but through their behaviour (including the respectful manner in which they deal with all employees) and the proactivity with which they communicate they are a hub of influence and communication. Smart organisations will identify who these people are and find ways of prioritising the feeding of information to them and utilising their influence.

Informal communication settings will provide more meaning and context for most employees: the beers, cigarettes and lunchroom context.

It may sound flippant, but wherever informal conversations are occurring between employees there will be work-centric conversations occurring where organisational content is being discussed. Getting to the informal influencers to assist in message traction will assist organisational communication effectiveness and functionality.

Additionally, there is a place within organisational communication to use different people to lead specific conversations. For instance, the chief financial officer will probably hold optimum credibility with employees when discussing the financial state of the organisation than line supervisors; the chief information technology officer will probably be listened to more closely than others when IT issues are being communicated.

It may be somewhat painful for some organisational leaders, but I strongly subscribe to the MBWA (management by walking around) approach to communication. Leaders will become more relevant to employees and their messaging will resonate more clearly when it is obvious they are personally reaching out to employees by talking WITH them, not at them.

Dialogue, empathy, contextualising organisational stories and content to individuals is clearly an effective approach to communication.

An extension of this is leadership having regular large group face-to-face forums with employees, giving them updates on key organisational matters; asking for feedback; providing opportunities for new ideas to be tabled.

Have you used an approach which involved influencing the informal leaders in an organisation to assist with proactive or issues management-related communication? How has the politics of organisational existence influenced the way in which you have undertaken internal communication and what have you learned from situations where politics are rife?

If you found value in this post, please share it through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or Google+.