Change management in an ever changing world is perhaps the most important thing a corporation can invest in today. Fast-paced changes in organisational structure and mission, objectives and goals need rapid response from senior management and this is where the doctrine of change management graduates from an art into a precise science.
You can never over-communicate when you ask your organisation to change. Employees are fearful and apprehensive of change. Few executives realise that change communication is less about driving change within an organisation than it is about the models of communication used to convey messages to the target stakeholders. The bottom line is that the old methods no longer work.
What should this communication aim to achieve? First it must counter resistance from the employees and align them to the overall strategic direction of the organisation. This can be achieved by providing counselling to overcome change-related fears or apprehensions.
Secondly, it should inform the stakeholders about the reasons why the change is being effected, the benefits of successful implementation of such change as well as the details of the change (the modalities and logistics of change). The communication must also devise an implementable plan for re-training and re-educating key members of the organisation.
The easiest way for a company to fail is for its top leaders to become victims of their own pride and completely disregard feedback from the ground up and especially middle management.
So what are the principles behind a successful change management strategy?
1 The message must be clear, unambiguous and inspire confidence. It should be truthful and factual and not seek to obfuscate or hedge. An example of what not to do is what Facebook recently did. Although the vision is undoubtedly clear – to find a way of showing advertising to people who access Facebook through their mobile phones (a rapidly increasing number) – how this will be achieved is not clear. From top to bottom there is confusion as to whether this is going to be achieved by creating new tools for Facebook applications on Blackberry, iPhone and Android sets or whether Facebook is going to acquire Research in Motion or whether it is going get into the business of manufacturing its own cellular mobile phones with Facebook as its operating system.
2 The message must resonate. Winston Churchill’s speech during World War II before the Battle of Britain helped Britain survive the blitzkrieg. A business leader needs to lead but he has to lead by consensus. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address helped a war torn and divided nation get its act together.
3 The communication must be on target. Imagine the CEO of a pharmaceutical company telling his research team about the numbers and targets required for the next quarter. Similarly, it often happens that support departments, such as legal and finance become privy to business and technical information that is beyond their remit.
4 Timing and delivery is everything. When Kennedy took on Nixon in that famous debate in 1960, most people listening to the radio thought that Nixon had won the debate. However, television audiences saw the profusely sweating Nixon contrasted with the youthful persona and good looks of Kennedy, and it was the latter who won the election.
5 The communication should not be a one way stream. There should be ample opportunity to the recipients to provide feedback. The easiest way for a company to fail is for its top leaders to become victims of their own pride and completely disregard feedback from the ground up and especially middle management.