6 Principles for Communicating a Powerful Change Vision
A great vision for change is only as good as how and when its communicated.
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As a Navy SEAL, effective communication was tantamount to success in chaotic environments. Similarly, when faced with the inevitable adaptive challenges all organizations encounter many times throughout their lifecycle, communication - or lack thereof - can 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. But getting it wrong will doom any 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 involved, no successful - and lasting - organizational change effort has been accomplished without an impactful, concise and feasible vision. The transformation task force must be a part of developing this vision statement for change, be bought into its outcome and be able to clearly articulate it clearly in many ways to others within the organization.
Let's say for example, an IT services company has a new transformation goal of reducing costs while also improving both customer and employee retention by a significant margin in the next two years. Not an easy task especially when done in tandem. But most great organizational change visions are both lofty and feasible at the same time. They can't be too far from reach for nobody to believe in, but 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 process must embody throughout the entire process.
The change vision must come in many forms, able to be communicated in both short and long form. If you can't articulate a powerful vision in five minutes or less where the listener understands and can envision the outcome, you need to go back to the drawing board.
Where I have seen this go sideways is when a leadership team invests many hours in developing a great vision that will align with a solid plan of attack, but then assume they can communicate this vision in five or ten minutes at the company meeting. If it takes along time to develop, it will take a long time to communicate it until it sinks in. Keep it simple and plan to over-communicate.
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 is 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. Over-communicating a poor or misaligned vision through many channels can be equally as 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, company-wide meetings, posters in the break room, one-one-one meetings and just good old fashion casual conversation. Senior leaders, managers and members of the transformation task force should find three or four opportunities a day to weave stories and examples of how the vision is being - and can be - implemented during conversations and meetings.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Use the channels and every opportunity to distill and communicate important information on progress throughout the entire 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 supported by targeted story-telling and public recognition for early adopters, a well-intentioned vision has a much greater propensity of being implemented successfully and at a faster pace. And you're more likely to have the support and assistance from more people. Maybe even everyone.
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. Their vision is to reduce costs and improve customer and employee retention. A tricky task because improving customer and employee retention can often have hard cost investments.
Reducing costs can't just involve lay-offs and reduced 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 seen 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 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 entire process, especially from the frontline troops. Communication must be encouraged to be 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 resonated with you?"
"From your perspective, are we still on the right path? If not, what adjustments can be made?"
Effective communication is an important element of any high-performance team or healthy relationship. Keep it simple, believable, authentic and use many channels. Make sure behaviors match the vision and get feedback along the way!