Entrepreneurs thrive on change because growing businesses demand it. Rather than the exception, big change is the norm, so it’s important to make sure everyone is on board.
Change often demands more communication than is required or expected in more predictable times. Leaders must regularly show their employees the rationale for constant change, and often they need to expect more of it. Business leaders underestimate this need for communication every day.
A recent client of mine was preparing for a major restructuring. It was an exciting time for the senior leadership, all of whom were on board with the vision and were eager to get the process moving. While these leaders believed that their employees were also on the same page, this was simply not true.
There had been a big meeting six months prior where leadership shared the strategy plan, but it had long been forgotten. To the team, these changes were part of an endless series of initiatives with no explanation of their relevance to the broader plan.
As important as this big change was, it floundered on the initial rollout. The leadership didn’t consistently translate this evolving strategy to the team. As a result, there was no broader context for implementing these initiatives and changes. The leadership chose what they believed was faster, yet their lack of communication directly impacted business success for months to come.
In reality, poor communication causes dissatisfaction and stress, especially with regard to change. A 2010 Towers Watson survey revealed that only three out of 10 employees described their managers as being able to deal openly with resistance to change. The survey also determined that the most financially successful companies invest in their leaders, training them to open a dialogue with employees about change.
Here are five pivotal communication principles to help leaders facilitate and encourage positive change within their organizations:
1. Go slow to be fast.
It may feel faster to complete an action or send out one communication, but this doesn't get the job done. Take time to involve the right people and ensure they understand the desired outcome, the plan and their roles. Loop in those key people upfront. Missing these essential steps will delay you even more on the back end.
2. Foster organic change.
Avoid relying exclusively on top-down leadership in these situations. Successful change happens when those closest to it stay involved. Embrace the genius of the team, involve managers and use them to move the change forward. Involve the team in targeted areas where they can actually contribute and solve problems.
3. Repeat, reinforce and reward.
Everyone can relate to the overconfident leader who says, “Everyone should understand the strategy. It was in the email I sent last month.”
Don’t rely on only one method of communication. Leaders often think mentioning something once equates to understanding and even commitment. Instead, use a variety of methods to communicate -- especially on complex topics or significant changes -- and reinforce the change objective daily.
Continually translate how a decision or new information impacts the work. When leading any change, communication never ends.
4. Repeatedly emphasize the "why."
Avoid announcing change with a sole focus on financials, actions or tasks. Understanding the “why” gives work purpose and creates commitment. Consider this more than a feel-good move -- it’s how change catches on and actually happens as intended.
It’s essential to understand the goals and intent behind changes. It helps team members make decisions without having a set process or policy -- not an unusual situation in times of change -- because they internalize the desired outcomes. Also, treating team members as essential partners creates buy-in and engagement much more than assigning work tasks.
5. Create conversations more than presentations.
Don’t become enamored with big, formal presentations. Announcing change via one-way channels might help clarify intent and direction, but big changes won’t happen with spectators. Utilizing smaller, more conversational communication venues creates opportunities for two-way conversations and feedback.
Change is essential in the growth of any business. Yet in the sea of 120 to 150 emails received every day, key messages will be lost.
Communicating clearly and with intent will help build a network for change to become a reality. What entrepreneur wouldn’t want to create that kind of culture?