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Tenet #5 - Ten Tenets of Change Management

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by Larry Pendergrass, Principal

Tenet #5: Over-communicate. Be consistent. Make it simple.

No matter how many times you think you have given the same message during a significant organizational change, give it again, and again, and again! Remember that while the future is crystal clear in your mind and in the mind of your guiding coalition, most of the organization is entrenched in their current paradigm. Even if you have given the single most eloquent speech of your life, once, the impact on the average worker has a short “half-life of decay”. As they walk out of your turning-point meeting and go back to their day jobs, the message is fading away with every step. The tyranny of the urgent takes over. Most of the people in your organization are worried about fulfilling the daily expectations of the firm using current processes, tools, roles and responsibilities. They are living in the present day, being mindful of what they must do to complete existing customer or administrative needs. What is to come, the vapor-ware you offer, the future you are presenting will be believed when it impacts them. But sooner or later it will impact them. You need to prepare them for that time. Give your message over and over again.

You can also lengthen the half-life of your message decay in two ways: Be consistent and make it simple. Eventually you will need to have the entire organization singing the same song. An effectiveness test of a change roll-out is whether or not everyone in the organization can state the new vision with clarity and conviction, and if they are convinced that it is the right approach and that these changes will successfully help the firm compete in the market. Two enemies of this ultimate goal for effectiveness are a wavering and changing message, and a message that is too complex.

Firm it up first. Refine your strategy and message before taking it to the broad audience. Be sure it is the right one. While leaders need to show that they are movable should the data demand it, too much wavering not only causes a loss of faith in leadership, but it produces a confused and unengaged workforce. Employees may remain detached until the dust settles and the plans firm up before getting involved. Anything else would be just a waste of their efforts. And after all, they have their day jobs calling them.

Secondly, make sure your message is clear and simple to recall and share with whomever asks. So often I have seen visions of the future stated in long paragraphs or a large list of bullet points. These types of statements have usually grown out of mutual respect and inclusiveness for a team of people chartered to draft the message, but they don’t work! If someone has to refer to a poster on a wall to read what changes are coming, you have not made the message clear enough. Details can always be given as needed, but for your primary message, you need to boil it down to the essential need, essentially a tag line, and communicate it more often than you think is necessary. Good examples that I have seen in my career spanning a wide range of change management efforts are “Profit from the Core”, “$75M within 3 years”, “An organization optimized for speed”, “Solid partnership with Manufacturing”, “Better than 15000 hour MTTF”, and “More Stimulation, less Simulation”.

Over-communicate, be consistent, and make it simple.

My next blog will be about the power of distributed decision-making consistent with the vision.

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