If you want to know the biggest killer of effective change management, look no further than lack of communication.
When it comes to driving change in your organization, you as a leader need to communicate, communicate, communicate. Then, communicate some more! When you think you have given people information overload, you have probably barely scratched the surface of what they really need to know and understand. Remember that change brings chaos and chaos brings a host of challenges including widespread confusion. People don’t know WHY change is happening, WHAT is going on, WHO is responsible for what, HOW things are going to be different, WHEN it will all be over, or WHERE their lives will be impacted. You, as a leader, need to provide information to answer all these questions.
Take the “why.” Communicating why a change is happening is crucial because you have to establish what we call “the burning platform.” In other words, you have to let people know that the place where they are standing is on fire – otherwise, they will never be willing to jump! To compound matters, if people do not understand why a change is happening, they will make up a reason – and it most likely won’t be a positive reason.
A prime example of this was when a client company was establishing a “badge in/badge out” procedure for people entering or leaving the building. We actually overheard employees talking sarcastically about the change – they believed the badge process was being implemented because the leadership didn’t trust employees not to steal from the company.
The truth of the matter was that the company had had a terrible fire at a plant in Europe: the site burned to the ground. While the fire was going on, the management was frantic because they thought four people were still in the building and they couldn’t find them. Without a badge process in place, there was no record of where the people were (fortunately, they were not in the building). For that reason and that reason alone, the company instituted the badge in/badge out process. It was purely based on concern for the physical safety of their employees. However, the leadership’s failure to clearly explain the need for change undermined employees’ willingness to fully commit to the change.
Or, take the “how” in change initiatives: you need to communicate how things are going to be different by providing organizational clarity. The structure has to be clear, including the roles that people now have, their responsibilities, who they are accountable to, what they are accountable for, the new processes and policies, etc. Structure helps people regain their stability and find their footing in the new order.
If you don’t communicate the “how” very carefully, you will end up with some people performing redundant tasks while other tasks are completely overlooked because people don’t know who is supposed to be taking ownership of them. Both situations are inefficient and frustrating. Conflicts can arise if people disagree on what the new reality is. Motivation drops as people lose focus.
It is the same with every question associated with change: what, where, why, when, who, and how. As a leader, you must keep information flowing, respond to questions, explain the business rationale behind the change, clarify roles and responsibilities, and all the rest of it. You cannot over-communicate during a change initiative. But if you actively try to over-communicate, you will succeed in communicating enough!
Leadership Takeaways for Change Management: