I know how important communication is to successful change management, but I have a situation where too much communication is causing a problem. My client is an organisation who have lagged behind many others in the progress they have made in changing how they work in response to Covid.
They have effectively squandered the last 9 months in talking about what might be possible, when their competitors have revamped their products and services and taken even more market share. All the indicators are there that it is time for action, but still they delay.
Causes of the problem
One of the causes of this is the cultural norm for talking things through, consulting on every aspect of a potential change, which raises questions that need to be further investigated before the talking starts again. This hesitant, risk-averse group think has caused stress because the uncertainty of change has been raised, but without the specifics of exactly what will be different and what will stay the same which reduces the fear of the unknown.
This highlights that it is not communication that is essential, but carefully curated conversations, with an objective for getting agreement to and participation in the change that is needed.
We are now working through an approach where some of the team are getting on with defining the change in a lot more detail than they have done previously, creating prototypes, running small experiments to find out how things work in practice. It is the results of this work that they are going to communicate, rather than the potential for change that they have talked through with their colleagues through 2020.
This is an important shift because they will have something concrete to debate. They will be able to provide evidence of how long things take, what the impacts are, and how suppliers and customers are responding to the changes.
They still need the buy-in and support of their colleagues, but they are not going to get that if they get stuck talking about potential change. Potential change always sounds more worrying because we are good at catastrophising and seeing the risks, far more clearly than we can imagine the benefits of doing things differently.
To be effective leaders of change, we need to be more deliberate in our communications. We mustn’t hypothesize in front of everyone, with the potential to cause panic. We sometimes need to work quietly behind the scenes, with the attitude that we can ask for forgiveness later rather than waiting for permission. If we wait for permission, as my client has found out, we will be waiting a very long time.