The past eight weeks have included taking a course titled Change Leadership as part of my grad studies. During that time I have been able to read a book by John Kotter titled Leading Change. In the book Kotter lays out his eight-step process for leading change and dives into some other subjects around the future of organizations as well. It is a short and easy read but dense with information. I highly recommend it for any leader in any organization. It is well worth your time.
One theme that ran through the text, or maybe it was through my head, was the importance of communication while leading the change process. This was not just a one-time thing, stuffed into a single chapter and then forgotten again, but a general theme woven throughout the book and an integral part of each and every chapter. Each step along the way involves communication in some way shape or form. It is the air that leaders breath during a change. It is the fuel for the fire of any change an organization undertakes. Kotter’s first step is Create Sense of Urgency. Take a look at that and think, what is the best way to do that than to communicate with anyone and everyone about what is going on and why it needs to change … now? How is anyone supposed to know both the what and why of a change than when they are told!? Even the last step, Institute Change, will require a concerted and focused effort to keep that change from fizzing out at the end. Communication, and its importance, is integral every step of the way!
So how does that communication happen? Well, the possibilities are endless! However, here is a helpful video which can give you some ideas to start with.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. For each and every organization, there is a unique blend of communication styles, mediums, and messages needed in order to make sure the change is getting through and that the communication being presented is having an impact. Talk with your people and figure out what will work best. Here is an excellent example of just talking to people and tailoring the change message to the audience. It is of Steve Jobs taking questions during the 1997 World Wide Developer Conference. Much of what he talks about here can be seen played out in Apple, through the changes he started, over the next 20 years.
One aspect of communication that I have really come around to over the past few years, and I think is vitally important for change in particular, is to be on the lookout for the dysfunctions of a team found in Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. In his model, he presents the dysfunctions that he has seen railroad teams and organizations across decades consulting with businesses and non-profit organizations. You can find it reproduced here:
These same five dysfunctions can very easily sidetrack and sideline needed changes because some of those needed levels are not there. What is the first thing to go? Communication breaks down and becomes ineffective and when that happens, the downfall of the organization follows closely behind. Patrick is an entertaining speaker, so I will let him speak for himself.
Trust is the base, and it needs to be the base for change as well. When trust is there, it makes the work of the leadership that much easier and the way that trust is fed is through effective, true, useful communication. I cannot recommend Patrick Lencioni’s books enough as quick and easy reads with many useful tidbits about leading organizations. They are filled with humor and knowledge.
Here are some more resources to look at. Remember, communication is vital, but it is also a moving target and something that needs to be tailored to each and every organization and situation:
- 10 Tips for Communicating Change (Inc.)
- Communicating Change: What People Want To Hear And What They Need To See (Forbes)
- Patrick Lencioni: The Four Traits of Healthy Teams (YouTube)
- John Kotter – Communicating a Vision for Change (YouTube)
- Apple Confidential – Steve Jobs on “Think Different” (YouTube)
- Communicating Change as Business as Usual (Harvard Business Review)
- Macworld 1998: Steve Jobs talks about Apples return (YouTube)
In closing, do not discount at all the importance of communication during change. When you think you have communicated enough, double the effort. When you think that everyone is onboard, triple the effort to pick up those people who are still on the fence and move those who are in opposition onto the fence so you can pull them over when you do it again! As Patrick Lencioni wrote in The Advantage:
… there is no such thing as too much communication.
Go forth and communicate … then communicate some more!