“We’re trashing the old processes because too much is falling through the cracks. We’re going to bring in all-new and mostly incomprehensible systems. And, of course, we trust that you – our loyal employees – will persevere, make sense of it all and ensure that we meet our quarterly projections.”
Management teams rarely say it exactly that way, but often it’s what employees hear and (sadly) more or less what happens.
Working on a new large-scale change management project for a client has given me the opportunity to think about how we can better sail the stormy seas of change management. Here are the five Cs that I believe will make the difference in this (or any) change management program.
- Confidence. When you know where you need to go as well as how you’re going to get there, you can feel confident about your arrival. Many change initiatives don’t present a clear picture of the destination or a detailed map that the organization will follow to proceed. (Note: If that map doesn’t exist, your program has significant likelihood of failure.) If you confidently explain not only the direction, but also the possible obstacles to be encountered and your plan to overcome them, it’s much easier for employees to feel optimistic about the chances for success.
- Credibility. Too often, senior executives don’t feel an obligation to explain their thinking. Why should employees feel good about this change? What past accomplishments support the probability of current success with this initiative? What capabilities and resources will be called upon to make this work? Too often, leaders assume their credibility is inherent in their executive title. Not so. Build the case if you want the credibility you’re going to need.
- Clarity. What’s the basic message? Repeat it, repeat it, and then say it again. It’s almost impossible to over-communicate during times of change. Provide constant reinforcement with updates on progress, and be sure to always celebrate “what we’ve done so far.” Do this and you’ll earn the bonus “C” – commitment.
- Channels. When it comes to communication systems, one size does not fit all. The employee population will have a wide variety of communication preferences. Electronic and print communications are staples in any effective program, but never underestimate the power of communicating face to face. My best advice: Use all available options to keep up the momentum.
- Caution. Communicators sometimes believe that effective communication is the solution to every problem. But, let me offer a word of caution about communication in the world of change management: Communication isn’t everything. Managing change is also a matter of reviewing and revamping processes, tools, technology, rewards systems and training programs. It isn’t just a matter of communicating well.
Change is difficult even when the change is intended to result in something better. However, if you address the difficulties honestly, build the business case clearly and concisely, and share the roadmap for getting to your goal, you can succeed in managing even the most complex large-scale change programs.