“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end” (Robin Sharma)

Change initiatives and their accompanying strategies need to be communicated effectively so as to create both understanding and gut-level buy-in. In successful change efforts, the “big picture” and strategy are not locked in a room with the leadership team. The direction and subsequent actions of change are purposefully and widely communicated to get as many employees as possible involved in behaviour that will make the vision a reality.

Rumours cloud change initiatives and muddy the proposed vision. People start talking negatively when they feel uncertain about the way ahead or when there is a lack of clarity from the leadership team about the new vision. Employees need and want definitive pieces of information to facilitate them feeling more secure about the change. Without these clear directions, rumours abound, with common questions dominating conversations, viz.:

  • I don’t see why we need to change – why now?
  • Do these guys know what they are doing?
  • What is going to happen to my position?
  • Are these guys serious or is this a part of some more complicated processes or games that I don’t understand?

John P Kotter (The Heart of Change) insightfully notes: “In successful change efforts, a guiding team doesn’t argue with this reality, declaring it unfair or illogical. They simply find ways to deal with it. The key is one basic insight: good communication is not just data transfer. You need to show people something that addresses their anxieties, that accepts their anger, that is credible in a very gut-level sense, and that evokes faith in the vision. Great leaders do this well almost effortlessly. The rest of us usually need to do homework before we open our mouths.”

Typically, organisational channels of communication are over-stuffed with information that is not pertinent to strategic intent. Such is the nature of modern business, but most of the flood of information is irrelevant, or marginally relevant at best. Only a fraction of supplied information is precisely relevant to the successful execution of strategy for employees. Leaders need to clear organisational communication channels of clutter and focus on two things – information needed to make relevant changes and empathy needed to demonstrate understanding of employee angst. When employees feel heard, experience genuine care and are assured of leadership commitment to relevant change and employee wellbeing, rumours are unlikely to be spread.

Kotter makes an important observation here: “People in change-successful enterprises do a much better job than most in eliminating the destructive gap between words and deeds.” Deeds speak louder than empty promises. When leaders say one thing and then do another, cynical feelings can grow exponentially. Conversely, walking the talk can be most powerful. Kotter gives some relevant examples: “You say that the whole culture is going to change to be more participatory, and then for the first time ever you change the annual management meeting so that participants have real conversations, not endless talking heads with short, trivial question and answer periods. You speak of a vision of innovation, and then turn the people who come up with good new ideas into heroes. You talk globalisation and immediately appoint two foreigners to senior management. You emphasize cost-cutting and start eliminating the extravagance surrounding the executive staff.”

Rumours cloud change initiatives. Rumours, however, can be avoided if the leadership team walks the talk, communicates pertinent information clearly, and expresses empathy by acknowledging all the pain and uncertainty that change brings. Ignoring employee angst leads to diminishing trust, higher levels of anger and concern, and increased rumour mongering.

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