“Smart leaders today engage with employees in a way that resembles an ordinary person-to-person conversation more than it does a series of commands from on high, instilling a conversational sensibility throughout their organisations” (Groysberg & Slind)
Achieving organisational alignment during change interventions – across new processes, systems, procedures and the application of human and other resources – is not an easy task. Even if the organisation’s vital signs look healthy enough, the emotional dissonance brought about by the change disturbs the majority of those in management and, of course, those on the shop floor. All change incurs emotional impact and these feelings usually centre on possible loss, uncertainty and doubt – loss (of position, identity, power), uncertainty (is there still a place for me in this new company journey) and doubt (in one’s ability to handle the change, fulfil the new expectations and often resulting in a waning of one’s confidence). All of these emotional realities for people need to be addressed effectively if the organisation is to apply its energy with focus on its new journey.
Depending on the extent of change necessary for the organisation, levels of communication should vary – superficial changes (like new access roads to the parking area or a new security feature) require shallow levels of communication, but debriefing negative emotions and possible pain (like feelings of loss, uncertainty and doubt), however, require deep-level communication ability. Achieving organisational alignment throughout the change journey therefore demands leadership effort and wisdom in choosing the most appropriate communication level when addressing employees. The levels are as follows:
- Awareness – used to supply information regarding minor changes that are not going to affect fundamentally the way things are done or to announce impending large-scale change, but with the assurance that more personalised communication efforts will follow to address the concerns that will be in everyone’s hearts. Typical channels of communication here include e-mail, posters, newsletters, video presentations, road shows, etc. – one-way communication.
- Understanding – used to provide greater depth of knowledge about the things that will be changing and those things that will be remaining the same. A series of leadership presentations give insight into how the changes will affect the individual employees, teams and organisational structure. Video-conferencing is often used for access to employees in remote company locations.
- Support – used to provide the necessary upskilling for the change and prepare employees to focus on the new expected behaviours required for successful change implementation. Seminars and training courses are typically used to grant employees the opportunity to acquire new skills.
- Involvement – used to listen to concerns, address issues and receive ideas from the employees. Transparency, honesty and empathy should characterise leadership communication at this level. Leaders may use individual and team meetings, feedback forums, speak up meetings, interactive conferencing and focus groups to accomplish goals in relation to alignment of effort.
- Commitment – used to ensure everyone is on board paddling in the same direction to achieve organisational goals. Problem-solving in teams, bedding down of roles and expected behaviours become everyone’s focus. Multi-directional feedback is used to enhance processes and accountability at all levels is instituted.
Achieving organisational alignment during major change initiatives requires deep-level communication from the management team to address concerns adequately and ensure that effort is applied appropriately by all. If done well, the change process is automatically accelerated and organisational alignment is more easily reached.