“Communication comes in both words and deeds. The latter is generally the most powerful form. Nothing undermines change more than behaviour by important individuals that is inconsistent with the verbal communication. And yet this happens all the time, even in some well regarded companies.” John P. Kotter, author of Leading Change.
I couldn’t agree more. Over the two decades I’ve worked with various forms of marketing and communication, my conclusion is that leaders at all levels need to see themselves – their words and actions – as their most influential communication channel.
Most of the time, at least on an intellectual level, leaders are unanimous about the direction of a change initiative. Yet the same managers are often the very reason change takes much longer than it needs to.
This boils down to a few pitfalls:
- I, as a leader have not understood or accepted that I have to make a personal change journey before I can convince others
- I, as a leader lack the support of communication tools (and as such every leader has a different take on the message)
- I, as a leader have not realized the importance of constant repetition of the message and open dialogue with co-workers
- I, as a leader fail in my symbolic leadership – i.e. leading the way through my own actions
- I, as a leader lack ability or knowledge of presentation techniques
- I, as a leader avoid hearing out feedback and fail to coach my employees
I think most managers in senior positions recognize themselves in some of these points. It’s not easy to be a manager, especially at the intermediate level. You live under the constant pressure of expectations and commitments from above, from below and from the sides.
But managers do much better when we support them.
Communication can make all the difference by providing the support management needs and strengthening change management. Start by adding the different management levels to your communication plan. In the same way you customize newsletters and the intranet to the target group, “the manager channel” must be tailored to their needs. That applies to both content and format.
On several occasions, I’ve helped management teams practice their ability to communicate change. I’ve found working with these three elements helps them succeed:
- Process change messages together based on everyday situations. A manager’s first task is to “translate” the overall messages and adapt them to the various internal target groups. This work rests on operational managers – not the communication department. Take the time to help them digest the messages and practice presenting them in a safe environment. If you take the time early, it will lead to easy, quick wins going forward.
- Practice symbolic leadership, insight and skills. Tasks can be quickly managed simply by following a checklist. But leaving it at that leads to limited results. Symbal uses a method based on theory mixed with exercises. The participants come to see for themselves the importance of setting a good example, being clear and keeping track or progress during a change journey. Personal insights are gained on what management need to work on and we can fine-tune the actual ability to lead change.
- Set up a long-term communication infrastructure. On a global level, the prep work should include not just an implementation plan, but a methodology for measuring the impact of communication during the change journey. Based on this, develop a toolbox of communication materials, supported by a collaborative platform (digital and physical) for knowledge sharing, planning, measuring, follow-up, etc.
Your project is far more likely to succeed when you take “the leadership channel” seriously and give it the attention it deserves. If you put in the time and resources even before launch, your managers will shine and lead the change with confidence.
Experience: 25 years working with change management
Personal mission: To take the fear out of change
Weapon of choice: The Symbal Change Model
Change anthem: Aerosmith, Dream on
Latest posts by Peter Gustafson (see all)
- Why? A little, three-letter word that holds so much power… - April 11, 2017
- Challenges and opportunities of the digital paradigm shift - October 18, 2016
- Communication channel # 1 - January 27, 2016