Video: Leading Change Step 4 - Communicate the Change Vision
8 Step Leading Change Article Series
John Kotter's, Eight Steps for Leading Change, remains a viable model for senior leaders to use to guide a change effort. It has not lost its value with time. In previous posts, I discussed the first three steps of John's model (see links at the end of this article).
In the third step of his process, Developing a Vision and a Strategy, senior leadership and the guiding coalition (change management oversight team) create a sensible and appealing vision of the future. With this concise and high-level description, senior leadership and the guiding coalition next turn their attention to the fourth step of Kotter's process, Communicate the Change Vision.
Your goal in communicating the change vision is to make the complex simple. When you think about communicating change, it's easy to fall in love with data, metrics, research studies, business trends, etc. as instruments to make your case for change. All of these information sources certainly have their place in your change effort, but they do not constitute the core messaging of your change vision.
The wisdom of Keep it Simple applies here!
When senior leaders communicate the change vision effectively, they and the guiding coalition promote organizational understanding and it establishes a foundation for gaining the commitment from employees and managers to embrace this new direction. They effectively capture both the minds and hearts of the employees and managers that are needed for the change.
(Communicating the need for change is not impossible. It can be done under the most difficult circumstances. To read the real-life story about how the words of one man changed a whole country, click here.)
Through effective communication, these important stakeholders not only understand the reasons for the change but they also agree with it and are committed to making it happen.
What does it take to communicate the change vision effectively?
First, the change vision communication requires simplicity and repetition.
Simplicity and repetition foster understanding and retention. Critical organizational stakeholders cannot embrace a change vision that is hard to understand.
This communication also needs to consist of simple language that avoids the buzz words of the moment. Many employees and managers will be suspicious of change and will need to be convinced that this new future is better than their present circumstances. Buzz words and jargon make them doubt the genuine value of a change effort.
Second, the change vision communication needs to be two-way. It is not top down only; it is also bottom up. Employees and managers are not captives of the change effort. Rather, they are active contributors to the change effort and shape its implementation through open communication and ongoing feedback.
Finally, the change vision communication includes ongoing senior leadership and guiding coalition participation. Often, in organizational change efforts, senior leadership does a great job in its initial communication to the organization but then abdicates its responsibilities for communicating further.
The continuing communication of senior leadership--with their guiding coalition--sends two powerful messages to employees and all levels of management however. First, it says that senior leadership will stay actively engaged until the change effort occurs and second, it says that the guiding coalition is senior leadership's vehicle for making the change effort happen.
How Should Senior Leadership and the Guiding Coalition Communicate the Change Vision?
There are several best practices for communicating the change vision.
One of the most critical practices is to use all of the organization's communication vehicles to get the message out. This includes email communications, large group meetings, written communications, informal meetings, the company intranet, etc.
Second, the change vision needs to be "operationalized" so it becomes an everyday part of doing business. Senior leaders and the guiding coalition find ways to communicate the change vision in their daily operations and existing processes to promote its acceptance.
Third, the use of verbal pictures in language is important to communicating the change vision. Stories, metaphors, analogies, and examples are all effective means of painting a compelling picture of the future for the employees and managers who need to be sold on the change.
Finally, senior leadership especially needs to "walk the talk" and directly address any important inconsistencies between leadership behavior and the change vision. They will need the heart of employees and managers (rather than forced compliance) to ensure the successful implementation of the change vision.
Inconsistent leadership behavior affects the motivation of critical stakeholders.
If leadership has not exactly modeled the principles of efficiency, innovative thinking, budget conservation, or other behavior that is needed for the change, it is better to address the inconsistencies directly and honestly and explain how this will be corrected moving forward. Leaders can then create support for their vision by "walking the talk" in their future behavior. (Employees and managers will be watching.)
Organizational change is frequently difficult. It is possible to capture the hearts and minds of employees and managers for a needed change, however.
Senior leadership and the guiding coalition are more likely to obtain this commitment when they (1) communicate the change vision with simplicity and repetition, (2) engage employees and managers in two-way communication, (3) use multiple forums to get their message across, (4) address obvious inconsistencies in behavior, and (5) use verbal pictures. Organizational change is difficult, but not impossible.
With the organization now committed to the change effort, senior leadership and the guiding coalition must now turn its attention to implementation with Step 5: Empower Broad Based Action.
Prior Articles in the Kotter Leading Change Series
For more information about leading change, see my previous posts on John Kotter's model:
If your communication about how you want to change your organization does not come across as sensible and appealing, then no one is really going to be excited about working with you to make it happen. Click To Tweet