Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Saying the Same Thing Differently: A Tip for Change Initiatives

As you start any large change initiative one of the first things you do is form a guiding coalition, a leadership team. That group will champion the change. One of the first things that group is then tasked with is to create a vision and mission for the change initiative. Where do we want to go? How will we get there? This vision and mission is then ratified by the group and should then be communicated to the larger organization. This is where some organizations run into their first major issue. They create the vision without a full understanding by each of the involved parties as to what details the vision conveys. Human resources only hears the part that affects them and misses the operational component or maintenance only hears the changes in their function and ignores the quality aspects. Then the leadership group begins the communication process to the masses and the message is both delivered and received differently by various parts of the organization. An organizational mess can then be created one word at a time.
The suggestion is to take time to practice, as a leadership team, conveying the message to each other. It is expected that everybody will delver the message slightly different using their stories, filters, and life experiences to add the context to the vision. However, in the end the message received by the organization needs to be the same regardless of the communicator or the communication style. This is harder than it sounds and may even require teaming up of leaders from different parts of the organization to ensure consistent messaging reaches the affected associates. If we do not get this step correct the organizational components can go down different paths that may in the end lead to to different locations and inadequate initiative results.
Have fun with this step use role play, single point lessons, and scripting within the leadership team to refine the message and delivery. Work together where needed to generate a cohesive message. In the end this will provide the team with a practiced method to say the same thing differently with in the comforts of their preferred styles and should remove one more barrier from your initiative's success.

What things do you do to refine your communications and messaging around change initiatives?


  1. Great advice Shon. Also very important is the first step and that when the leadership team is 1st creating the vision and mission for the change initiative, they insure the major change initiative's vision and mission statements are fine tuned from a marketing and communication perspective. Some times the barrier to change is not so much the communication of the vision, but the complexity and lack of marketability of the vision to those it affects.

    When it comes to major change, people naturally have a bulletproof vest on. So your change team can not just use an ordinary messaging bullet, it needs to be a high performance armor piercing change message. :)

  2. Fully agree, an unprepared communication can irreversibly damage a change initiative... Communication and people selection are crucial to lead a change process. Most of us tend to jump to solutions when it comes to communication, I often ear "so lets print out a newsletter like this people can read it at home, we can put more details" or we have a TV in this crowded corner so the message will get across the entire organisation smoothly" or also "I will forward your e-mail, like this we can engage them in this process",...ect
    Communication Strategy is much more than talking about media, we think that because we are convinced it is easy to convince but it is not (refer Persuasion by Jay A. Conger).
    One key activity, I have learnt by mistake is to spend the required amount of time to identify : opinion leaders, hierarchical leaders, network leaders and most important "gate keepers", the persons that will allow the commmunication to spread in an aligned way or not...;)

  3. I think a very important component of any change management exercise is not only defining the mission and the vision for the change, but defining purpose within your organization. Many organizations can explain what and how they do things, where many fail is having the 'why' transcend the organization. Centering the focus of the transformation effort around the purpose that your organization lives by, tends to bring into context the change management exercise - the reason for the change is not strictly tied to vision and mission but to purpose. Leadership's goal should be to invoke the buy-in based on the individual wanting to be there at the end. You want the person to decide for themselves that they want to be apart of the change, not that they are being assimilated to it. You won't always get everyone to think this way but if you apply the law of innovation of diffusion to the model of change management, you want to reach a tipping point that will bring those slower to adapt around. While vision and missions provide alignment, purpose is the fuel that gets you where you want to be.