Change management: A better way to explain the "why"

Change management: A better way to explain the "why"

Most leaders can walk their team through the what and the how behind change management efforts, but fall short on the why. Here's how to make it meaningful

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CIO as Digital Leader

5 ways to make change personal

Once you understand how to explain the why, you need a reliable strategy for getting the message across. Here are a few practical tips.

1. Expect to over-communicate. Most of us need to hear a message multiple times before we really get it. Yet many change leaders think that “one and done” is all it takes for others to get on board. This often occurs because the leaders have been aware of the new vision for several months, and they forget that others are hearing it for the first time.

2. Be transparent when you don’t have all the answers. Change is hard and needs to be fluid. Leaders rarely have all the answers in the early stages of organizational changes. Rather than wait to engage teams until you do, let them know what you do know when you know it, and keep providing updates as the process evolves.

4. Constantly test for shared understanding. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred.” Most management courses advise leaders to use active listening by asking people to repeat back what they’ve heard. But that doesn’t work very well in times of change. Nor does simply asking them if they understand what you’ve said.

It’s better to ask folks what they think about what they’ve heard, or what their concerns and suggestions are for moving ahead as an organization. As they share those, leaders can assess how close they are to a shared understanding and adjust their messaging, and perhaps even their change plan, accordingly.

5. Ensure everyone in the organization is in the loop. I’ve seen senior leadership send out all-hands messages about which their middle managers had no knowledge. Then when staff members asked their immediate manager questions about the situation, they got an unhelpful response along the lines of, “I don’t know either. I just heard about this the same way you did.”

Make sure everyone in your chain of command knows what’s happening, when it’s happening, and why it’s happening. Better yet, prep them with FAQs and sample answers. Also, make sure that they are on board, and address any concerns they may have before the all-hands messaging begins.

Again, adequately explaining the why is a lot of work for leaders. But while you might be inclined to skip it or feel like it will slow you down, it will actually help you achieve change more efficiently. And that’s the whole idea, right?

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst. ]

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