Friday, May 19, 2006

Promoting Organizational Change Through Communication

Globalization, Technology changes, New competition, Changing customer demographics etc.. are forcing companies to change their business models, strategies and long term objectives. Organizational change is usually a tough process. In my previous blog, I had written about the human aspect of change management. In this article, I will be writing about the importance to leadership communication in the organizational transformation.

Change management has always been a complex task for the top management & its CEO. Some leaders have succeeded in transforming a company from the brink of disaster to a successful organization, while some have led the firm straight into disaster. In both cases, the CEO had a sound strategy, well laid out plans and a team of change leaders. Yet the results were vastly different. A key factor for successful change management has been the human factor in the change process. For employees in the company, Change is a promise of a better future.

Change initiatives that fail - often has one serious short coming:- Leadership communication between the CEO & employees. The leaders must promise a better future, and the promise must be pausible and create the perception that the promised future will actually materialize. This message must be clearly communicated to all employees in order to win employees trust, persuade then the believe that the changes will be beneficial and make them to implement the change. Thus leadership communication plays a very important role in promoting change.

Leadership communication styles

The first step to becoming a better change leader is to identify one’s dominant style and understand its strengths and weaknesses. Most leaders fit into one of three communication-style profiles:
  • Cartel Communicator: whose central concern is power: obtaining it, wielding it, maintaining it. Eg. Larry Elision, Azim Premji, George W. Bush, Scott Mc-Nealy
    Strengths: Unflinching determination, an excellent network among top-level political and economic leaders, bold decision making, and a long-term perspective.
    Weakness: Autocratic, unrealistic goals, disregard to feedback

  • The Aesthetic Communicator: whose high degree of communication savvy is driven by the need to create and project an attractive, likable, and credible image. Eg. John Chambers, Meg White, Steve Jobs, Bill Clinton.
    Strengths: Communicators possess a highly attuned sense of how to communicate with various stakeholders, a facility with systematic communication planning, a process view of change, a high degree of intuition, and lots of charisma.
    Weakness: May become blind to reality, get surrounded by yes-men.

  • The Videogame Communicator: whose high energy level, technological expertise, and intellectual restlessness make him or her a natural multimedia communicator and an inspirational, innovative leader. Eg. Larry Page, Bill Gates, Andy Grove
    Strengths: Truthful, team players, not worried about losing face, high self-confidence, entrepreneurial attitude.
    Weakness: Gets bored in absence of immediate challenge. Short span of attention.

Holistic Communicators

Executives who perform best in the complex, constantly shifting business environment are those who combine the strengths of all communication styles. I call them Holistic Communicators. Like Cartel Communicators, they are skilled at projecting determination, inspiring a focus on the long term, and developing and exploiting a powerful network. Like Aesthetic Communicators, Holistic Communicators possess an appreciation for the strategic importance of communication, an ability to communicate well with diverse stakeholders, and a strong analytic capacity for language. Like Videogame Communicators, they view mistakes as opportunities for growth and innovation, and their candor, empathy, and openness to new experiences and new ways of looking at and talking about issues make them skilled at inspiring followers.

Holistic Communicators often display the following traits:

Be the first to change! Be seen letting go of old habits and trying out new things. Make mistakes. Show vulnerability. Question yourself. Be true. Have the guts to share your ideas when they’re still unfinished.

Eliminate the promise-reality gap. Make a promise and then describe the steps toward achieving it. Follow up with immediate action. With every step announced and then completed, leader’s credibility will increase and people will follow, even through considerable hardship.

Tell it all—and take the tough questions, too. Many leaders try to hide company problems from their employees and the public, often exacerbating the problems. Secrecy breeds corruption, power abuse, and infighting. Honesty builds trust.

Be tough and empathetic at the same time. Be tough and clear in what needs to be done, but also be understanding when it comes to individual fates.

Be visible. Be there; for your followers to trust you, it’s not enough for them to see you on the cover of BusinessWeek. Go to the sales and shop floors, the cafeteria, the R&D labs.

Keep your eyes on the prize. For people to focus on the change, Leaders must focus on it. Don’t go for the seventh prestigious board membership. Stick with your mission, and your people will, too.

Don’t get hooked on short-term wins. Change projects are long-distance races. Sure, leaders need some early successes. But don’t lose sight of the long-term goal.

Use modern media. You want employees to use your company’s systems? Use them first. Be creative. Set up a chat room where anyone can ask you questions, and answer those questions personally.

Communication Mistakes to avoid

Some of the most common communication mistakes done by top leaders are:
  • Advocate teamwork .. But make lonely decisions, and you praise and reward individual contributions.
  • Demand Risk taking .. But play it safe, and you penalize mistakes.
  • Advocate diversity .. But are surrounded by yes-men
  • Speak about the need for long term change .. But reward quick fixes
  • Speak about synergies and sharing the best .. But place their yes-men in all key positions
  • Ask managers to focus on the task ahead .. But CEOs are never around.

Closing Thoughts

Change management is a complex process. To be successful, leaders must communicate effectively with all stake holders, employees. Successful change strategies must address the human aspects of change - while addressing the other issues.

Also See:
Principles of Change Management


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