If you are leading change at any level of your organization (or in your personal life), then ask yourself this question. How do others see me in relation to this change?
Several years ago I was working with a global consumer services firm. The lead change agent Peggy and I had been busy day and night preparing for the roll-out to their leadership team. Everyone was gathering at a prestigious country club for the big event. We had met several times with the COO, helping him prepare for the announcement he would be making, the questions that would follow, and the work he would have to be doing in the weeks to come.
The morning of the announcement Peggy and I had visited all of the post-announcement breakout rooms to be sure they were ready. We were heading back to the main hall for the scheduled 9:00 AM announcement when we ran into the COO. He was heading toward the front door, golf clubs over his shoulder. On seeing us he paused long enough to say, Peggy, you know what to tell them. And be sure to tell them how important this change is to me. I really was planning on telling them myself, but 9:00 was the only tee-time I could get.
The change was dead on arrival.
What you communicate and how you communicate it are critical to change success. And as is so often the case, “actions speak louder than words.” Perception is reality.
Take a look at yourself through their eyes…
Where are you investing your time?
Carefully review your calendar; your meeting agendas; the conversations you have in the hallways, the cafeteria, the rest room. How much of your time is the change taking up?
If it is a big change, one that is important to the future of the organization, the answer better be, “It is getting a substantial amount of my time.” There is no formula for how much time that should be. But if you are not visibly investing your time and attention in the change, you are signaling others it isn’t really as important as you say it is.
What is being celebrated?
Imagine this… (I’ve seen it. You probably have seen the same or something similar.)
It has become clear that the silo-based approach to customer service is putting the future of the business at risk. Customer satisfaction and retention have both experienced precipitous declines. While there are individual performers who are “stars” in their own areas of expertise, too often the ball gets dropped as customers are passed from one department to another. And, when they pick themselves up, they turn to one of your competitors and leave you behind.
Plans are in place; big changes are being made. The organization is moving forward with its shift from a culture of individual performance to one of team performance. Then at the annual holiday celebration the CEO steps up to the microphone to announce “Employee of the Year.”
Ummmmm… If you are celebrating what was important, rather than what will be important in the success of the change, you are undermining what the change is intended to achieve. If this is your change, you need to be celebrating not employee of the year or even team leader of the year…but team of the year.
What is being measured?
This has been addressed in earlier blogs, but it is worth repeating here. There is a difference between installing the components of a change and actually achieving its full benefits.
Are you measuring change progress in terms of time and expense vs. plan? Yes, those are important. But if you aren’t measuring results, you won’t get them for very long if at all. Installation is necessary, but not sufficient, to yield realization of the change benefits. You need to plan for both, track both, and hold people accountable to both.
How much real listening is going on?
It is vital that you regularly check in to see how your messages are being received. your messaging has to continue to adjust to what people are hearing and believing.
Are there structured environments for listening, interactive blogs, etc? Are you and others who are key to the change listening as much as you are speaking? If not, the tendency will be to send out pre-planned messages “on schedule,” rather than to communicate what people need to hear.
What questions are you asking?
The questions you ask reflect your priorities. If all (or most) of your questions are about current operations, how much priority will people perceive the change has for you?
What stories are you listening to, and what stories are you telling?
Stories are powerful. Are your stories about “the good old days” of the business? Or are they about the future that you are building together? Are you content to sit and listen to stories about the way things used to be? Or, are you asking others to tell you stories about the journey into the future? if the organization is purpose-driven, are you listening to people tell you all the things that they are doing, or are you asking them to tell stories about living the purpose?
In what ways do you intentionally cultivate how others perceive your change leadership? What messages have you inadvertently communicated as you have developed your change leadership competency? What other questions do you reflect on when considering how you are perceived as a change leader? Your insights, comments, and discussion are welcomed below.