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Leading Change (Step 4) – Communicate the Change Vision

In This Article

(Click the links below to move easily to sections of this article)
Change Communication: From Strategy to Execution
Why Keeping Your Change Communication Simple Matters
What It Takes to Communicate Your Change Vision Effectively
Best Practices for Communicating Your Change Vision
Video: Communicating Your Change Vision
Quiz: Communicating Your Change Vision
Leading Change in the Workplace Article Series

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Change Communication: From Strategy to Execution

Small group meeting with woman speaking to two colleagues

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 articles, I discussed the first three steps of John’s model (see links at the end of this article). The third step of John’s process is all about developing a change vision and a strategy. This occurs when senior leadership and the guiding coalition (change management oversight team) create a sensible and appealing vision of the future that can be used for organizational decision making. 

Once senior leadership and the guiding coalition have developed a change vision and strategy, it’s time for them to communicate it. This is the fourth step of Kotter’s Eight Step Leading Change Model: Communicating the Change Vision.

First figure out where you want to go, why it's important to go there, and how you want to get there, then spend some quality time explaining to others why they need to join you. Click To Tweet

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Why Keeping Your Change Communication Simple Matters

Your goal in communicating the change vision is to make the complex simple.

This sounds easy but often it’s a difficult step for leaders to get right. Sometimes it’s because they’re used to telling rather than selling. Other times, it’s because they’re not good at getting their ideas across in a simple and understandable format.

Good data is critical to leading change, but don’t let it become your enemy.

When you think about your own change communication message, don’t let it become overloaded with facts, metrics, research studies, business trends, etc. 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.

Use good data to support your change message, not overwhelm it. The wisdom of Keep it Simple applies here!

You'll find little support for implementing your change effort, when no one understands why it's necessary. Click To Tweet

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What It Takes to Communicate Your Change Vision Effectively

the word "what" written on a chalkboard

So, what does it take to communicate your change vision effectively to your employees and managers?

First, communicating your change vision requires you to use simplicity and repetition.

Simplicity and repetition foster understanding and retention. Your critical organizational stakeholders cannot embrace a change vision that is hard for them to understand.

Your 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, your change vision communication needs to be two-way.  It is not top down only; it is also bottom up. Don’t treat your employees and managers as captives of your change effort.  Rather, through open communication and ongoing feedback, view and use them as active contributors to your change effort. Allow their input to shape how you implement this change in the organization.

Finally, your change vision communication includes your ongoing participation and the ongoing participation of your guiding coalition. This is critical to the success of your change vision communication. (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.)

Here’s why your ongoing communication with your guiding coalition is important: It sends two powerful messages to employees and all levels of management throughout your organization.

First, it says to your organization that you are committed to seeing this change happen and that you will stay actively engaged until the change that you want occurs. Second, your active communication with your guiding coalition says to your organization that your guiding coalition is your team. They are working on your behalf to make your change efforts happen.

When communicating with others about the need for change, communicate often, clearly, and simply. Click To Tweet

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Best Practices for Communicating Your Change Vision

the words success in red letters and failure in blue letters shown on a computer keyboard

There are several best practices for communicating the change vision.

One of the most critical practices is to use all of your organization’s communication vehicles to get your message out.  This includes email communications, large group meetings, small group meetings, written communications, informal meetings, the company intranet, etc.

Second, your change vision needs to be “operationalized” so it becomes an everyday part of doing business.  You and your guiding coalition can seek opportunities to communicate your change vision in your daily operations and interactions with others in the organization. This will help to promote the acceptance of the change that you want to make.

Third, the use of verbal pictures in language is important to communicating your 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, it’s especially important for you as senior leadership to “walk the talk” and directly address any important inconsistencies between leadership behavior and the change vision. You will need the heart of employees and managers (rather than forced compliance) to ensure the successful implementation of the change vision.

Inconsistent leadership behavior can destroy the motivation of critical stakeholders for a change effort

If you or others on your senior leadership team have 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.  You can then create support for your vision by “walking the talk” in your future behavior.  (Employees and managers will be watching you however.)

You'll find little support for implementing your change effort, when others believe that you do not walk-your-talk. Click To Tweet

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the words "the end" are written on a chalk board

Getting others to accept and work with you to make change is frequently a difficult process.

It is not impossible however.

It is possible to capture the hearts and minds of people for needed change through effective communication. It’s been done under difficult circumstances.

(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.)

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.

You and your guiding coalition are more likely to obtain this commitment when you (1) communicate the change vision with simplicity and repetition, (2) engage employees and managers in two-way communication, (3) use multiple forums to get your message across, (4) address obvious inconsistencies in behavior, and (5) use verbal pictures. 

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.

While it’s true that bringing about change in organizations is difficult, it’s also true that it is 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.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. — King Solomon Click To Tweet

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Video: Communicating Your Change Vision

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Quiz: Communicating Your Change Vision

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Leading Change in the Workplace Article Series

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
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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