How to communicate change and get leaders to drive it
The reason most leaders wont drive change communication initiatives is because they are about information that is readily available online and because when employees ask questions about the changes they feel unable to provide answers – therefore they avoid doing it.
I wanted to provide an example of a change communication initiative I designed where the business was seriously underperforming and how we designed a change communication strategy that was driven by leaders at all levels of the organisation and had the impact of significantly improving business outcomes.
This organisation is retail based, but this approach can be adapted for any industry sector. I initially worked with the executive teams at each level of the business to focus on business issues and develop change communication strategies to impact on those issues and bottom line outcomes. The profit results of each of the company owned stores were not good – they were losing money and managers were not equipped to make decisions about what to do to turn the situation around.
Here are a series of steps that I followed to engage managers and staff to turn the profits of this business around.
- I convinced them of the need to share profit results with their staff. So instead of staff coming in each day just to do a job, there was a paradigm shift in thinking about how they contribute to the bottom line outcomes of the business.
- I gave managers of each store some guidelines of how to communicate this information and what to do next.
- What to do next was that in their next staff meeting to encourage a conversation of what could be improved in the store, customer service, quality of products and to provide feedback on comments customers were making. This might be about lack of stock, lack of choice, price of goods etc.
- Then each store was given the opportunity for six weeks to implement just one idea and measure the impact – it had to be the idea that they all thought would have the greatest impact on business results.
- After six weeks they measured the impact, the store managers then presented these outcomes to the territory managers who had accountability for 12 stores. Looking at the results the decision was then made to impact the top three ideas that had impact on store results state wide. These were then discussed with regional managers who when they now visited sites met with staff as well. They now had something real to talk about that employees were directly involved in.
- After three months the regional results were in country wide and the top 3 initiatives became the standard process in all stores.
- A newsletter was produced each month specifically to support this project with photos and stories from employees and managers
- A reward and recognition program was impolemented specifically for this initiative.
The outcomes were an organisation that had made a significant shift towards a retail culture which was reflected in bottom line outcomes. Employees identified retail opportunities and also improvements to the business outcomes. These actions were then implemented nationally. As a side benefit the retention issues reduced significantly and territory managers and store managers were able to show the impact of local decisions on specific retail sites.
The “business awareness” sessions using actual business data and engaging employees to contribute to improving business outcomes were now driven by managers and became a new standard item at team meetings. The change communication strategy to communicate business improvement initiatives also created a community of expertise that continually shared new ideas.
So whilst productivity issues, profitability issues, redundancies etc may all prove a challenge to communicate, the only real challenge is to stop focussing just on the information about what is changing and to move the focus to opportunities to improve the status quo.
As a communicator you are achieving many desired outcomes, you improve the capability of managers to communicate change because you have put in place a structured process. You have improved business outcomes because you have focussed on a topic that truly engages all employees; you have removed communication barriers that exist in organisational hierarchies and you have given frontline employees a voice. This is the change communication approach that adds value to an organisation. Focus on this and you become a business partner, focus on just communicating information and you become a service provider to the business. Your challenge is always to become the strategic business partner.