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The One Skill Change Leaders Need to Avoid Failure
By: Michelle Bennett on Apr 4, 2022 9:15:00 AM
In business today, change has been constant. New ways of working, digital transformation, and shifting customer needs and expectations, almost every industry has undergone rapid change, and it won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
One 2022 HBR article even said, “We’ve been living through the greatest workplace disruption in generations, and the level of volatility will not slow down in 2022.” A recent Chief Executive study agreed as they found 9 out of 10 senior leaders are currently engaged in organizational change.
With so many organizations experiencing rapid change and the need for every initiative to succeed, the pressure is on leaders to make it happen. Surprisingly, when looking at why change fails, in the majority of scenarios, it isn’t due to a flawed strategy or an inability to secure funding; it is something much more fundamental, a skill that spans every leader in an organization. The one skill every change leader needs to avoid failure is effective leadership communication.
Leadership communication is key to the execution and adoption phase of change. If leaders are ineffective communicators, the change initiative is destined to fail. This was proven in a research study conducted by Robert Half.
The study surveyed 300 senior managers asking where change leadership efforts often fail. The most common phase where change fails is during the execution phase, and the number one cause is inadequate, ineffective leadership communication.
Change leadership doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of the senior person leading the initiative. Managers, supervisors, and every individual who oversees employees who are impacted by the change must be called upon to lead it. The biggest influence on if employees embrace change is their direct manager.
The strategy can be sound, but without each direct leader winning over their employees, the ones who will be implementing the change in their daily activities, the change will fail. Inspiring, clear, and consistent communication is needed to overcome any resistance to change and ensure the initiative is seen through to completion.
To evade the number one reason change fails, here are 5 pitfalls to avoid ineffective leadership communication.
- No compelling reason for change
- Complex, jargon-laden, inconsistent communication
- One and done message
- Generalized information
- Failure to update on progress
No Compelling Reason for Change
There is likely a good reason for a change initiative. Change is a huge undertaking and isn’t taken lightly by leaders. However, when it comes time to communicate what’s changing, leaders often focus on what is changing and omit why the change is occurring.
Leaders must share an inspiring story addressing why change is necessary and how it will benefit individuals and the organization to win over employees and gain their support for change. In essence, change leadership requires a compelling vision for change that must be frequently communicated and reinforced if the initiative has any hope of success.
Complex, Jargon-laden, Inconsistent Communication
For the message of the change initiative to stick, it needs to be delivered using easy-to-understand language that clearly explains the rationale. That’s why it is essential to avoid complex concepts, jargon, and acronyms and instead use storytelling and a variety of mediums (written, visuals, videos, and live discussions) to ensure the message is remembered and understood.
In addition, all individuals leading change need to be sharing the same narrative; there can not be any mixed messages amongst leaders. Yet, a study by Tower Watson uncovered that 68% of senior leaders said they're "getting the message" about reasons for significant organizational changes. Still, as you move down the ladder, it falls to 53% for middle managers and 40% for front-line supervisors.
One and Done Message
Another common pitfall is announcing a change initiative at an all-staff meeting and ending the change communication there. Communication must be frequent and delivered by both senior leaders and the direct leader of every employee impacted by the change. Change leadership involves all leaders, not just those at the top presenting at a company meeting.
The direct leader and their employees should frequently engage in two-way communication where there is an opportunity to ask questions, give feedback, and listen to one another to build understanding. These discussions can occur in a formal setting such as team and one-on-one meetings and informal settings such as coffee breaks or private messaging.
When change is announced, it is typically the big picture of what is changing. Employees appreciate this information; however, they want to understand how this change will impact me and my job?
Every manager, supervisor, and leader will need to personalize how the change initiative affects each employee. They need to communicate the impact at a micro-level - for the individual and team. Addressing what they will start or stop doing, any resources or team training available, and a timeline for implementation will help ease any fear associated with change.
Failure to Update on Progress
Failing to communicate progress and engaging employees with updates and early success stories is a surefire way to stifle any momentum the change initiative may have. Change is a marathon, not a sprint, requiring frequent updates on small wins and progress towards the end goal and vision. Change leaders need to establish metrics along the journey and associated milestones to celebrate to keep up engagement, momentum and make sure the change isn’t another flavor of the month initiative but seen through to fruition.
As we’ve seen, effective leadership communication is a critical skill for change leaders. If you want to avoid the pitfalls of change leadership, enrolling in a program such as Change Management or Speaking as a Leader is an ideal solution. These programs will equip you with the knowledge of how to effectively lead change and communicate in a way that inspires those around you.
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