Imagine this: An e-mail arrives from the chief executive officer of your company with the following message:
It is no secret that the past few years have been a struggle. Our competitors are buying market share at the expense of profitability. We must now undertake radical change to ensure our survival.
As a result, we are embarking on a complete reorganization of your division. This change will allow us to streamline decision making, improve communication, increase efficiency, and focus all of our energy on customer needs.
We are a great company with an outstanding team, and I know that we can be even better. We have a history of leading our industry. I know that with your support and commitment, we can regain that position.
The intended message was one of crisis and opportunity to generate the creative tension we discussed in the last chapter. Is that what was going through your mind?
Or were you worried about one or more of the following:
- How will we accomplish this reorganization and still complete the work?
- How is this going to affect our customers? Will it really be easier, or will we lose customers in the transition?
- Will this work? Do we have the capacity and capability to pull this off?
- What will happen to my teammates? How are they going to be affected?
- What will happen to me? Will I have to work longer hours? How will it affect my job?
Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken, consultants at McKinsey & Company, suggest that 80 percent of what leaders care about and talk about when trying to enlist support for change does not matter to 80 percent of the workforce.
To gain the commitment for the change that you want, you must connect with people where they are. You do that by making the change relevant and real.
WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR
Here are the top five questions I hear from frontline employees as we talk about impending change:
- From what to what? Tell me the specifics of what we will be different in how we must think, act, and perform.
- What does this change mean for what I do and how I operate on a daily basis? This is the personal application extension of the previous question.
- Will this make a difference? Is there a good business reason for doing this? How will it help the business or team? It is okay if the change is purely for compliance reasons. Just tell me.
- How will success be measured? If you can’t measure success, how will you know that there has been a return on our effort and investment? And how will you know whether to reward or hold me accountable for my participation?
- What is the support level for this change? Do you, my boss, really believe in this, or is it another mandate from on high?
Remember: communicating change—even when it is done correctly—is subject to personal interpretation. We all process messages through the lens and baggage of our own experience.
To have a chance of connecting, your change communication plan must answer all five questions. Your odds of that communication building commitment increase exponentially when your message is filtered through the lens of trust and credibility.
Excerpted from Make Change Work by Randy Pennington. Published by John Wiley & Sons. www.penningtongroup.com/make-change-work/