As a Navy SEAL, effective communication was tantamount to success in chaotic environments. Similarly, when you're faced with the inevitable adaptive challenges an organization encounters throughout its lifecycle, communication can either be the catalyst for success or the most damning piece of the puzzle.
Creating, defining, and communicating the vision for organizational transformation is a tricky process and requires considerable time and resources to get right. Getting it wrong will doom a change effort to failure, almost every time.
As mentioned in a previous article this week, the first step when heading into the murky waters of change is to build a powerful guiding coalition, or transformation task force if you will. This team must include senior leaders, key managers, and additional team members who are among the most well respected in the company and known for embracing change.
Regardless of the team members involved, no successful, lasting organizational change has been accomplished without an impactful, concise, and feasible vision. The transformation task force must participate in developing this vision statement for change, buy into the outcome, and be able to articulate it in many ways to others within the organization.
For example, let's say an IT services company has a new transformation goal of reducing costs while also improving customer and employee retention by a significant margin in the next two years. Not an easy task, especially when doing such things in tandem. But most great organizational change visions are both lofty and feasible. They can't be too far from reach for anyone to believe in, but also not so mundane that nobody gets excited about the outcome.
There are six core principles that organizations, senior leaders, and those involved in the transformation task force must embrace throughout the process.
The change vision must come in many forms, and you must be able to communicate it in both short and long form. If you can't articulate a powerful vision in five minutes or less, in which the listener understands and can envision the outcome, you need to go back to the drawing board.
I have seen this go sideways when a leadership team invests many hours in developing a great vision that will align with a solid plan of attack, but then they assume they can communicate this vision in five or 10 minutes at the company meeting. If it takes a long time to develop the change vision, it will also take a long time to communicate it until it sinks in. Keep it simple, and plan to overcommunicate.
Authenticity starts with a leadership team having a good track record and a culture based on trust and accountability. Without these foundational elements, there will be a longer road ahead. No leadership team or company is perfect, so if the track record is a bit muddled, that's fine.
A powerful vision followed by immediate action, behaviors consistent with the new vision, and follow-through are a great way to rebuild trust. Authenticity is also established when the vision aligns with the company culture and values, even if part of that vision is to improve the culture.
As I touched on before, the communication of the change vision must be done early, often, and through every means possible. But be careful. Overcommunicating a poor or misaligned vision through many channels would be detrimental. First, spend the time getting it right, and collect feedback so you have as many considerations as possible.
Great channels to use are the company newsletter, an intranet, companywide meetings, posters in the break room, one-on-one meetings, and just good old-fashioned casual conversation. Senior leaders, managers, and members of the transformation task force should find three or four opportunities a day during conversations and meetings to weave stories and examples of how the vision is being--and can be--implemented.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Use the channels and every opportunity to distill and communicate important information on progress throughout the process, especially if strategies are being tweaked along the way.
I've found that being overly repetitious, although it can feel like you're being annoying, is the only way to make a transformation vision sink in. When repeated regularly and supported by targeted storytelling and public recognition for early adopters, a well-intentioned vision has a much greater propensity for being implemented successfully and at a faster pace. And you're likely to have the support and assistance of more people. Maybe even everyone.
5. Consistent behavior
I can't stress this enough, and it absolutely has to start at the top. Let's go back to the example of the IT services company. Its vision is to reduce costs and improve customer and employee retention, a tricky task because improving customer and employee retention can often require hard cost investments.
Reducing costs can't just involve layoffs and cutting resources--that can quickly lead to an increase in customer turnover, not a reduction. That said, sometimes that is just the reality. Cost cutting must be considered at all levels. If the senior executives are still lounging in opulence, flying in private jets, and taking the board of directors on lavish golf getaways, nobody will continue to believe in the vision. And that's just one example. Behaviors, especially of those at the top, must embody the new vision on and off the battlefield.
As previously mentioned, feedback should be gathered while developing the new change vision. But it also must be collected throughout the process, especially from the frontline troops. Communication must be encouraged, top down and bottom up.
"How do you think we are doing with the implementation of the new vision?"
"Do the quick wins we have established resonate with you?"
"From your perspective, are we still on the right path? If not, what adjustments should be made?"
Effective communication is an important element of any high-performance team or healthy relationship. Keep it simple, believable, and authentic, and use many channels. Make sure behaviors match the vision, and get feedback along the way!