Communicating Change: How You Can Be a Change Leader

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    Surprise! Your organization is experiencing a major change…again in communication strategies. It’s a new process… a merger…or reorganization… a new product launch…or a new customer…OK, you get the picture. Just about the time you begin to feel comfortable with the last major change, here comes another one. It’s a sign of the times.

    In this series, we will examine some aspects of leading yourself, your team, and your organization through change. Let’s start with you; if you are a supervisor, manager, or leader at any level, you will be influential in the success of this change.

    In my experience, most change efforts fail because either you have absentee sponsors or you have the wrong sponsor. Communication strategies, at all levels involved with the change must be thoughtfully planned out. It is understandable that leaders still have to do their “day job” but to be effective at leading change they need to plan enough time for their visibility and they must also carefully select their “doers” in order to accomplish their goals. Let’s look at what you can do to facilitate the change process.

    For leaders:

    1. Be visible. Don’t delegate the change to someone else….don’t kick off the change and then retreat to your office or another project. You need to stay visible and involved all the way through the change. Leverage your current meeting rhythms, town hall meetings, and whatever you do that gets you in front of the troops. If being visible is not your style or approach – get a coach and work on it. Remember not communicating is communicating something!

    2. Take an active role. Get involved deeply in change efforts; ask for additional assignments. Working through a major change is a great opportunity for you to increase your own visibility and skills. Good leaders step up to communicate change. Make a presentation, deliver key messages, and go out to other locations to talk about the change. During a recent successful airline merger, senior executives made it a point to be highly visible and made all attempts to stay out in front and communicate what was going on. It really made a difference in how well they were able to move through the change.

    3. Build a coalition of partners. Here is another chance to get outside your silo and engage with other leaders. Enlist them in the change. Develop key messages together about the change. Send out key communication briefings together. How much solidarity would you create by sending out a change message that comes jointly from, let’s say, Operations, IT, and HR, all reinforcing key messages about the change? Partner up!

    4. Enlist your front-line managers and supervisors. These are the people who are “in the trenches” throughout the change. This is where the change really takes place. Front-line managers hear the concerns, help employees struggle with emotions, and see what adjustments are needed to make the change successful. Help managers develop their skills in change leadership by coaching or training them. This is the most effective level to manage change in organizations – managers and supervisor levels are the most trusted, and the closest to those impacted by the change.

    5. Reinforce the troops. Take time to celebrate each milestone, providing plenty of appreciation, thanks, and fun to help sustain momentum for the next steps. Examples might include a pizza party, picnic, or town hall meeting with awards and live music, followed by cake and toasts.

    We have taken an overview look at communication strategies you can take to help your organization move through change. Next time, we will look at some specifics for front-line managers and supervisors.