Most people have seen it. They’ve lived through it. (Hopefully they haven’t been tempted to do it.) That is: charging ahead of one’s team, making changes that leave team members dumb-founded.
There are sensitivities, to be sure. Organizational change has many fragile layers. Rarely will a whole team cheerlead a plan to success. There may even be wisdom to dispensing information slowly and strategically.
But over and over again, leaders, leadership teams and boards of directors announce significant change with little or no detail.
Here’s a typical announcement (it may sound familiar): “The leadership team is excited about the upcoming changes. We look forward to new opportunities. We are confident that these changes are critical for long-term growth.”
With assurances that the leadership team is on it and “has discussed this at length with the board” or “this has been in the works for months,” the rest of the organization is left totally in the dark.
The following code of conduct for leading change comes from 30 years of experience working alongside leaders and implementing changes:
1. Share complete information
Humans are naturally inclined to fill in the blanks. It’s in their DNA. When it appears that only part of the information or the real reason for the change is not public, people immediately form small groups in an attempt to find the reasons. That means the imagination of the team is unleashed to develop multiple scenarios of the upcoming change, inserting stuff from their own life experiences or worse.
If it’s not possible to share upcoming changes, keep mum. Don’t hint. Don’t allude. Don’t give people content that is filled with holes.
As change is integrated, strategically plan the communication. Give as much information as possible — but don’t just give random information. Strategically position the information that is released to augment the positive impact of the upcoming change.
2. Connect with influencers
In the popular TV show “BULL,” Dr. Jason Bull calls these influencers “sneezers.” What they say spreads like an uncontrolled sneeze.
Reach out to the influencers and arm them with facts and information. They can be supportive if they’re allowed to do so.
These individuals are key. When they know they are trusted with critical and ‘insider’ information, they use their influence circles to spread it. Since they enjoy being influencers, they will also correct miss-information as soon as they encounter it, which is what change leaders want.
3. Connect with opinion leaders
Know one’s team. There are people who don’t stand at the front lines or even speak up in public settings, but they influence the team. Their success, education, experience, networks and even their personality gives them their status. Their opinions become the opinions of others.
Engage these individuals in the discussion and possibly the decision process. That way, they will influence with facts and content that is reliable, not simply add to the rumour mill. They could influence how many early adopters there are.
4. Communicate strategically
Avoid asking people what they think, especially if they won’t be listened to. Ask any questions wisely, making sure the person, team or group is able to reflect on the situation objectively.
Ask better questions. Understand that the most important information they are looking for is how the change will impact them personally. How will this impact their team? Is there something they believe should be considered? What recommendations do they have that will lead to success? What impact will this have on those the organization serves, its clients or customers?
5. Take advice seriously
If someone has the courage to stand up and answer good questions, respect them and the advice. Avoid giving immediate feedback. Take time to consider their advice.
Don’t brush them off or answer superficially. Acknowledge the individual and the advice directly and be sure to give feedback as to why their advice was used or not. Experience suggests this is very powerful and empowering to this person and those watching.
Bottom line: build an engagement and communication plan.
Remember that this isn’t a personal plan. Critique isn’t of the change leader, it’s a healthy part of collaborative excellence.
The ultimate goal of both the change leader and the people affected by the change is to achieve the vision set for the organization. If the plan doesn’t get the organization closer to its goal, adjust the plan.
Arnie Wohlgemut is the senior coach and president of KP Mylene | Building to Lead, a facilities management and leadership development consulting company.
The preceding article has been adapted and reprinted with permission from the KP Mylene blog: http://www.kpmylene.com/blog/.