Leadership’s role in change management communication

Sat, Oct 10 2015

Employees charged with formal leadership responsibilities are a critically important make-or-break link in the change management chain. Their influence stems from their pivotal roles as communicators and as cultivators of desire for change amongst those at the actual coal face of change.

This assertion is supported by research which has identified change sponsorship, and employees being aware of how change impacts directly on them and their roles, as the two most telling factors on successful change.

This post is an excerpt from A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, a free resource packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management.

Leaders need to be advocates. They need to be agenda setters. They need to be psychologists. And they need to be the clarion call. They must personify the carrot and the stick. Most importantly, they need to be role models; they need to....walk the talk.

At an elemental level, leaders need to be accountable for their role within change management. It’s not good enough to simply tick the boxes of line management. Change is a crucible of intense activity and provides one of the greatest tests of whether a person is a manager or a leader. Being the former will not deliver the best possible change outcome; whereas manifesting the latter gives change a fighting chance.

Characterising effective leadership

Change management crystallises a major problem any organisation faces, that of when managers are competent at managing, but struggle with leadership.

Leading requires emotional intelligence, empathy, an embodiment of the organisation’s cultural aspirations and interpersonal skills that are difficult to teach and are often perceived as secondary to technical expertise and experience when ‘leaders’ are appointed. So often we see management positions filled because of how capable candidates are at their chosen professional field, rather than their people leadership capabilities.

Clearly, the manager of a particular business group needs to have an understanding of the work that group undertakes, but that group will never reach its potential if it is not managed effectively and, most importantly, provided with strong, purposeful leadership.

This is the sort of leadership that supports and inspires. It is leadership that concurs with organisational vision but adapts to the needs and wants of individual employees. Without it, change will be a mechanical thing, one more akin to an alien – and alienating – burden, rather than a relevant process leading to personally meaningful and commercially advantageous outcomes.

Clearly, one factor that will help generate buy-in from leadership is involving them in the change process before they are handed the product and told to sell it.

This notion is encapsulated in public relations’ most important theory, that of two-way symmetrical communication. It refers to the assertion that the more a person participates in the formulation of the product, service, process or policy, and the more influence they have over it, the more likely they are to buy into it.

Head communicator: calling all leaders

It is executives who are sought after by employees for big picture, context setting communication, while for information directly relevant to their specific roles it is the employee’s line manager who is relied upon and has credibility regarding the granular detail of WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).

It is they who are more intimately aware of what an employee’s working day involves, what activities they undertake and what their priorities are. It is they who have the power to adapt business activity directions that filter down through the hierarchy as well as, critically, rationalise how it fits in with organisational and business unit objectives.

The WIIFM factor will be partially driven by information provided to employees on the consequence and benefits of the change. But each person is different and will have a different WIIFM trigger. Leadership enables managers to understand what the WIIFM actually entails for employees, allowing them to address each individual’s queries in the most effective possible manner.

This provides a customised context for teams and individuals impacted on by change and helps foster a sense of ‘desire’ for the change. Done exceptionally well, it can also create a sense of hope and a belief in the vision for change.

The primacy of face-to-face communication is one reason why line management has such influence. This form of communication will almost always generate a greater amount of impact than other forms of communication.

Face-to-face is, fundamentally, a highly respectful form of communication. By granting an individual or small team time in which to discuss matters of importance to them it is recognising the value they provide to the organisation. In many ways, the communication content – and certainly the conversation’s agenda – is driven by the employee, not the employer

This is an excerpt from A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, a free resource edited by professional change communicator Craig Pearce. It is packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management. The guide features intel from seven experienced communication and change professionals, and will benefit all levels of practitioner. The guide can be downloaded from Public relations and managing reputation, or by request via email to craig@craigpearce.info.

Author: Craig Pearce

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