Executive Report

Communicating Change as a Leader

I think we all know by now that the business world, much like the actual world, is not immune to change. There are so many factors that can impact how a company does business: from scaling operations up or down, to market expansion or contraction, to the introduction/discontinuation of products or services, to how to create, promote, price, and deliver those products and services. And those are just the things that are within an organizations control! Add in the unexpected: a pandemic, a global major supply chain disruption and international conflict, to name a few, and you can see why it is imperative that leaders are prepared to navigate the chaos that their organizations are inevitably going to encounter from time to time.

As companies experience change, there is typically a significant impact on their workforce as well. Job roles and functions, and the overall approach to business, may need to adapt – sometimes short-term, sometimes long-term, sometimes permanently. Many business organizations believe that employees who are paid to do a job can simply be told to change.  Perhaps the belief is that the employees will see the need for change as the company does, recognizing the long-term value to the company (and ultimately to themselves), and readily accept the change.

But it rarely works that way.

People will resist – even fight – change that they don’t understand or that they think is not in their best interest. If the objective of the change is perceived to be corporate greed, exploitation, or betrayal, or the end result is perceived to be harmful, they will not buy into it. This fact underscores the need to communicate to the people affected by and expected to carry out the change, the reasons for and the benefits of the change.

Also, people cannot change overnight…  even if they want to.  You can’t train, motivate, or simply tell people to change.  People transition through change.  Change must be phased in as existing routines and priorities are phased out.  Depending on the severity of the change, it can take considerable time. Managing organizational change requires thoughtful planning and responsive implementation which includes communication and consultation with, and the involvement of, the people affected by the change.

Why?

Because, when people face change, they typically experience a range of emotions.  And, as they transition through change, their reactions often change – some in a positive way, some in a negative way.  They may experience feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression intermingled with feelings of approval, exploration, and commitment. If you were to plot their positive and negative emotional reactions over time on a graph, the curve would look like a sine wave.  If you attempt to force change on people, the peaks and valleys of the curve will be more pronounced.  Conversely, the earlier you inform people about the change, involve them in the change, and obtain their buy-in, the flatter the curve, and the more quickly you can reach your final stage of the transition.

Leaders, the responsibility for implementing change falls on your shoulders. To meet that challenge, you must be able to interpret, communicate, and enable.  You must understand the reasons and objectives of the change and identify the benefits that will ensue for your organization and your team.

To help your team transition through change, you must first identify starting and ending points – where you are today and where you want to be as a result of the change.  Then, you will have to identify the “why”, “what”, and “when” elements for getting there. You should understand the rationale for, objectives of, and benefits from the change. You will need to clearly communicate this information to your employees about any changes to gain their acceptance.  The more people understand the reasons for change, the more likely they are to be the building blocks of change rather than the roadblocks to change.

Next, involve the people most affected by the change and those that are integral for implementation in a collaborative effort of developing a plan.  Change will not take place without the cooperation and contribution of your people.  You should also establish who will be responsible for what, by when, and how it will be measured, and to whom the results will be reported.  Each participant in the plan must know exactly what will be expected from them and how they will be judged for fulfilling their part of the plan.

Once you implement the plan, you will have to monitor progress and provide appropriate feedback to keep your people and the plan on track and on time.  If activities need to be adjusted, that’s ok as long as you keep your focus on the ultimate destination.

In every business environment, change is inevitable. The leader who recognizes the dynamics and impact of change can make the transition through the transformation as painless as possible for those affected. The more you inform your people about the need for and benefits of change and involve them in the development and implementation of the plan, the smoother the transition will be. Remember: Positive changes will take place because of your people, not in spite of them.

Executive Report

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