Active and visible executive sponsorship is the number one contributor to the success of change initiatives. Leader communication is the best vehicle to demonstrate their commitment to changes necessary for short and longer-term performance.
When helping leaders understand and master their communication roles, I focus on three things: develop and communicate a post-change vision; align words, actions and behaviours with the vision; and acknowledge and reward progress. Doing these things really well covers more than 80 percent of what is required to enable people to fulfill their roles in evolving an organization.
Develop and communicate a post-change vision
Painting a clear and compelling picture of where the organization is going and why this destination is important provides a common goal for people to identify with and work towards. It builds understanding, interest and commitment to an aspirational future and what it will take to create it.
There are three things people need to know:
- How will the change make the organization better (and why)?
- How will it make their lives better?
- What is needed of them to make the change?
Presenting the business rationale is important because the change needs to make sense before people can fully commit to it. They also need to know how it will personally affect them. This removes fear of worst-case scenarios and avoids future surprises – it is better to know the truth even if all aspects aren't positive. People also need to know their role in the change – attending training, following new processes, taking on new roles, etc. Being clear on what they need to do for the change to be successful gives people a sense of purpose and reminds them that their contributions are important. Not doing so leads to confusion, frustration, and paralysis.
When strategies are linked to the well-communicated vision, priorities are known and it is easier to spot when things go off track. Also, reminding people of the vision throughout the change reinforces the reasons why they must endure discomfort and hardships.
Align words, actions and behaviours with the vision
A truism of change is that people will do things differently only after their leaders do. This is why it is critical that leaders align what they say with what they do and how they behave. Some leaders don't realize they are being scrutinized for proof of commitment to what they say is important. Passing the alignment test leads to belief and consistent adoption; failure leads to lost trust and little effort.
Identifying the essential few behaviours required for a change to be successful with leaders is the best way to build commitment to them. Once defined, walking leaders through scenarios where these new approaches will most likely be expressed creates context for them. Providing feedback immediately after they demonstrate them (or don't) builds self-awareness, knowledge, and eventually capability.
Acknowledge and reward progress
People need proof that their efforts are contributing to goals. This is especially true in the middle of a change when the discomfort of learning new ways is greatest. Well-communicated progress leads to fulfillment, momentum and renewed energy to change, whereas not doing so leads to frustration and longing for past routines.
Acknowledging the project team and those undergoing the change at key milestones recognizes the efforts they have made and reinforces the importance of the initiative. Sharing success stories of people benefiting from doing things differently gives people praise and "bragging rights" to feel proud off. When leaders communicate these accomplishments well, people feel appreciated for their efforts and strive to continue achieving what is being asked of them.
Leader communication can make or break a change initiative. Focusing efforts on three priority activities will ensure people have the knowledge, role models, and rewards necessary to take on new ways of working, endure difficult transitions, and create a future they are proud of.