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How to Communicate Clearly During Organizational Change

If you order a steak and receive a cow, something got lost in translation. Misunderstandings like these, big and small, are what add up to destroy organizational change efforts. So in an article for Harvard Business Review, Elsbeth Johnson breaks down some of the basic signals that leaders must send during organizational change—and explains how signals sometimes get crossed.

Leave No Questions Unanswered

First off, as a leader, you need to be able convey clearly and accurately what you want to see change. Often, leaders talk about the general tasks they expect to see done instead of the actual outcomes that must result from those actions. Johnson provides a great example: In one organization, she helped to convert a corporate task of “Conduct exit interviews with all departing customers” into an outcome-oriented target of “Reduce the customer attrition rate.” When you start with the outcome and then proceed into the “how,” there is much less confusion among management and their teams about why tasks and projects are being executed.

Particularly, these are four questions leadership teams should take more time to answer in detail:

  1. Why do we need to change, and why now?
  2. What is the full extent of the change we need?
  3. What should improve as a result of the change, and how will we measure improvement?
  4. How does this new strategy or change connect to previous strategies?

Another thing you must do as a leader is ensure that you yourself adopt the change. Force of habit and adherence to old “important” priorities can drag you away from following through on your own ambitions. Sometimes, following through on change requires you to act consciously and forcefully to avoid falling into those old behaviors. Johnson says one leader described it as an “out-of-body experience,” trying to work through a situation while simultaneously being conscious of how his actions appeared to those around him.

One more challenge of organizational change is finding the right resources to execute the change successfully. And on top of that, the right metrics must be implemented to prove that it was a success. Problems arise in both areas when leaders are not specific and involved enough:

Part of the problem is that reallocating resources and changing metrics aren’t the glamorous work of strategic change. … And, of course, making changes to resourcing and metrics takes time. The announcement of the strategic change might have missed the annual planning and budgeting round. While it’s painful to face up to, announcing a major change might mean asking people to redo this grunt work. And while those asked to do it may not be immediately enamored with the request, they know the alternative is that they, and everyone else in the organization, will be second-guessing the change until this grunt work is done.

When you are mindful of these challenges, you can address them proactively. Better change management will result, along with more robust governance in general. You can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-to-communicate-clearly-during-organizational-change

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