Leading Change: How to Get Your Leaders Singing from the Same Song Sheet
A few years ago, a sales leader who we worked with on a sales transformation initiative confided in me. He pulled me aside and in a moment of truth admitted that he didn’t know what he should be doing on a day-to-day basis to drive the adoption of this big investment he had just made in his people.
This really got me thinking. Leadership teams leading change tend to focus on the tactical steps necessary to implement new initiatives and often miss the behavior change necessary to execute the change and function as an effective organization.
To support behavior change, at a minimum, leaders must know what message to deliver and then must deliver the message consistently to their people. Crafting a consistent message and communicating that message frequently are two of the five essential elements of an effective change leadership program.
1) Crafting a Consistent Change Message
It is common that some leaders, especially those directly involved in the initiative, are not aligned behind the initiative’s objectives and the expected outcomes. They have some significant issues to resolve to get onboard. Other leaders are not really familiar with the initiative and need to get a better understanding of what’s going on and why and what is expected from them to support the initiative.
It is critical to make the connection between the vision of the company and why you are asking individuals to change their behavior. The message has to objectively recognize threats that come from the market, customer behaviors, competitors, technology, and from the company’s own internal challenges.
We did a workshop with a large services company in the Midwest, and prior to the workshop, I met with the head of sales. After having done some interviews with his senior staff, I said to him, “I don’t think there’s a vision here.” The guy went ballistic. He explained, “I have a vision. I’ve stated my vision, and everybody here has heard my vision.” But what was clear to us was that his senior staff hadn’t heard it enough because they hadn’t internalized it. To them, they were just words at this point. You must portray a story about why. What it is that you want to accomplish and why not just the stated vision of the organization.
Members of the leadership team have to internalize the message. That’s one of the things we pay special attention to while dealing with a change leadership program — for our clients to understand the why and internalize the why. Once you internalize the why and can say the story in your own words, then you have a much better chance of owning the change.
2) Communicating the Message Frequently
This is where we began the whole process with change leadership in that organization. Partially, it’s a matter of repetitiveness, but repetitiveness is reliant on all of the senior leaders in the organization saying the same thing, and not by script.
Your leadership team must convey the same message consistently, even if it’s customized to your audience, so that people hear it from every senior leader. Depending on how your message is delivered, it can create different perceptions and factions, and people may wonder why they’re doing what you’re asking them to do. If your organization listens and digests the message frequently, you will lead them to a point where they feel this is where we’re going as a company and this is something I can lock onto. We see at companies where we’ve started to do this that if they get the message right, then people understand, and if they hear the message repeated often enough, they then realize the change is not going away. That’s a really important part of the messaging piece — the consistency and the conviction of a message.
If you get the message right and you deliver it consistently, it can make a difference in how people perceive the unity among the top ranks in the company. For example, there’s a tendency for leaders to stand up in front of a group and say “we” when they’re telling a story – “we” as a leadership team are going to do this, and “we” are committing to this. I try to redirect them away from “we” and toward “I.” It’s, “‘I’ am going to commit to these actions for you.” This makes the executive personally invested in the change, and more accountable to do their part in supporting the change.
Lead the Way
When we work with leadership teams on change initiatives, we often start with a change leadership workshop to get leaders up to speed and on the same page. The workshop is the first step in a long haul of executing a significant change initiative through a well-planned change management program. However, the workshop first ensures that leaders can deliver a consistent message — one that can be communicated frequently. We help our clients fine-tune their message, create awareness, and start the process of change leadership.
Stay tuned. In our next blog article, we’ll share the additional elements of an effective change leadership program.
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