C is for Communicate

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By Karen Barnes, Founder + Shift Leader

This is the third in a series on the ABCD’s of navigating change, or as we like to call them, critical shifts. In the first, we examined Alignment, followed by Building Behaviors. Today, we’ll touch on a few of the principles for effectively communicating during times of change.

 Now that you’ve learned how to create a shared vision for the change you seek to create among your company’s leaders, and how to identify behaviors that will make the biggest difference, it’s time to communicate the vision and create momentum for change. Until now, the first two phases have been confined to a small group responsible for creating the change – but now it’s time to go public and enlist the help of all those we want to participate whether they’re consumers, employees or stakeholders.

So what are the key questions we need to ask:

  • What’s the big vision? What are the rational reasons and emotional rewards for following that vision?
  • What stands to be lost if we don’t pursue this change?
  • How do we communicate both collective and personal expectations and actions that lead to our desired result?
  • How will both the organization and individuals be measured on their contributions to achieving the goal?
  • How do you frame messages for maximum impact and minimum resistance?
  • How can we leverage all the spheres of influence to create momentum?

Let’s start with this TED talk on the shape of great speeches. From Martin Luther King to Steve Jobs, great leaders understand that persuasive speeches create constant tension between what is and what could be, appealing to reason as well as emotion. Behavioral scientists say that the emotional brain gets on board with the ambitious dream, and the rational brain helps create the plan to get there, so we must communicate with both logic and passion. Don’t go overboard on the risk conversation though, as burning platforms create more fear than motivation. Use the opportunity instead to create a sense of purposeful urgency – not an impending disaster.

An inspiring vision is clear and achievable, aspirational and flexible. A vision is not a plan, a common mistake leaders make. But there does need to be a plan for how to get there. That gets communicated on a different level. The plan needs to be fine-tuned by department and by individual, down to prescriptive actions so there’s no chance for misinterpretation.

Because people often can’t see how their individual efforts contribute to the whole, it’s important to clearly articulate how each person is expected to play a part. By helping individuals answer two vital questions, we can erase some initial barriers to change: is it worth it? And can I do it? Motivation comes from people seeing the relationship between their own actions and the desired behavior. People are only willing to change if they believe the benefits outweigh the risks and if they believe transformation is possible.

Measuring progress and constant feedback are vitally important. Reward the effort, not just the results. Celebrate the small wins, not just the huge ones. Shine a light on the bright spots and emulate their actions. Reward change agents as you start to silence the skeptics and refine the vision.

By understanding your audience’s value systems, you can develop messaging that increases the chances of adoption and decreases resistance and cynicism. You can build bridges between disparate audiences by emphasizing commonalities and giving many reasons why change is necessary.

Finally, operate on multiple spheres of influence – the personal, social and structural to build momentum and abilities. Make the undesirable desirable, harness peer pressure, design rewards and demand accountability.

It’s a huge topic. We’d love to talk with you more about it. Call or email us for a free 30-minute consultation on your most pressing communication challenge.

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