We all know how important communication is to managing successful change, and I’ve done a lot of change projects, involving a lot of communication. But I recently experienced, from the ‘other side’, the impact of getting the communications wrong.
To manage change positively, we use a variety of communication techniques to:
- sell the vision for what we’re trying to achieve
- inspire others to join in with enthusiasm
- enable individuals to understand the benefits of the change and the impact on them personally
- engage people in contributing to the change; ideas and making things happen
- share progress and achievements, to keep us all motivated
- listen to feedback and learn from the experience
But if we skimp on the communication, or do it badly, people can quickly become cynical or fearful of the change, lose the unity of purpose and start moving in different directions. They can conjure up all sorts of alternative, negative scenarios, or feel left behind and start criticising from the sidelines. If we don’t know what’s going on, we feel stressed, lose confidence, become less effective, maybe even disruptive.Human beings are capable of amazing feats of courage, but left in the dark people imagine all sorts of beasties and become frightened of the bogeyman.
So, for a recent assignment, I dedicated a huge amount of my time and energy on thorough and creative communication and was really pleased with how things were going until…..
I started picking up on small signs from my client that there were some other changes in the offing: changes in reporting arrangements, conflicting messages about other corporate priorities, overlooked commitments, missed meetings, all got me thinking – “hmmm, what’s going on?” But nothing was being said.
So why, when it seems so obvious that communication is essential, do managers succumb to the temptation of saying nothing?
- we’ll wait until we have all the answers
- I don’t want to upset people until I have to
- they might tell other people (and get it wrong)
- I don’t want to distract them from their work
- it hasn’t all been agreed by the Board yet
- there are some confidential, or sensitive details, I can’t share
Despite all my experience as a manager, and many successful change projects, I was taken aback by the impact the lack of communication had on me: I put 2 and 2 together and made 7; started worrying that I hadn’t met expectations; thought of all sorts of negative scenarios; and lost quite a lot of time, energy and motivation. All of which could have been avoided if the client had simply shared with me what changes they were considering (which turned out to be no problem, by the way).
It’s almost never as bad knowing, as not knowing.
Something I have always believed, but this was a great learning experience, and reminder of why communication is so important to successful change management.