Successful transformations depend on savvy communicators
Change is organizational transformation with a capital “C.” Transformations typically require fundamental changes in a company’s offerings, operating model, or culture. They also require a workforce that is willing to embrace leadership’s transformational vision.
Certain change efforts, such as technology implementations, and process improvement initiatives, need some level of willingness to adopt change among employees, but they mostly require new abilities — skills that can be attained through training and practice. The success of a full-blown transformation, however, is highly dependent on the willingness of the workforce to embrace change. If the people in your company aren’t willing to change, it doesn’t matter how able they are or how much training they receive, the transformation will fail.
Communication is the key to generating workforce willingness. It is the lever that helps leaders change beliefs, cultivate understanding, and create buy-in. In successful transformations, leaders connect with and gain the full support of workforce with authentic, compelling, and consistent communication.
A compelling vision of transformation
To craft messages that drive willingness, you first need a compelling vision of transformation. It should be a vision that all the stakeholders in the business will find ambitious and exciting. And, it needs to be framed in human terms. Revenue, margin, and profit projections may set the heart of a hedge fund manager aflutter, but they are less likely to excite the workforce at large, business partners, and customers.
Today, stakeholders increasingly expect companies to operate as social enterprises. At Deloitte, we define a social enterprise as an organization whose mission combines revenue growth and profit-making with the need to respect and support its environment and stakeholder network. Such a company listens to, invests in, and actively manages the trends that are shaping our world. It is a good citizen (inside and out), serves as a role model, and promotes collaboration in every aspect of its activities. In Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report, CEOs cited their organizations’ “impact on society, including income inequality, diversity, and the environment” as their most important measure of success. Accordingly, you will want to consider how your vision for transformation aligns with a higher purpose.
Savvy change leaders go a step further. They link their vision to the work lives of employees. By identifying how the transformation will enhance day-to-day work, as well as pivotal events — “the moments that matter” — in the work lives of employees, you can ground your vision in workforce realities, make the vision even more compelling, and build willingness within the workforce.
Four enablers of effective communication
With a compelling and grounded vision for transformation in mind, leaders can turn their attention to crafting more effective change communication. Too often, we see leaders rely solely on “all-hands” communications to build workforce willingness. It’s not enough.
To build willingness, you must communicate transformation using a variety of means. When one of the world’s largest technology companies undertook the transformation of a major business unit, the multimedia team at Deloitte’s US Delivery Center lent a hand by crafting and executing a diverse communication strategy. It included animated logos that drew attention to a customized monthly newsletter, and interactive journey maps that helped employees understand how the transformation affected their jobs and pinpointed the transformation progress, as well as customized illustrations for presentations, and a series of videos.
Transformation leaders also need to communicate in a much more direct and intimate manner that is capable of speaking to employees as individuals. The following four enablers can help you craft such messages:
Affinity: The most effective messages are delivered by people with whom we are most closely affiliated. In the workplace, this affinity may come from membership in a department or function or location. It also may be imbued in a link to a specific leader. By taking the time to identify the affiliations of employees, you can discover more effective delivery channels for their messages (such as local leaders), and craft messages that reference and link to employee affiliations.
Alignment: Effective messages are aligned with the operational style of organization. If decisions are made collaboratively, messages should be delivered in a collaborative way. If a company operates in a top-down fashion, messages should be delivered in that way. This alignment may vary within a company. There may be different styles in different geographies, business units, and cultures. But in each case, crafting and delivering messages that are aligned with the dominant operational style will help ensure that they are accepted as legitimate and taken seriously.
Personalization: Not only do all employees hear and interpret messages in different ways, they have come to expect messages they receive at work to be as targeted and personalized as the messages delivered in their private lives. With the help of technology, you can and should personalize their transformation messaging—it increases employee receptivity.
Support level: To craft effective change messages, leaders need to gauge the current level of commitment to transformation within the workforce. If support level among employees is weak, your messages must address and raise that commitment. If support levels are high and employees are already committed to the transformation, your messages can begin to get more granular and deal with more specific issues. The support level dictates the content and trust of messages — and determines how it will be received by employees.
Transformation success requires communication with a human focus
It’s a rare leader who neglects the tangible elements of transformation — the technologies, processes, and skills — needed to achieve their new vision for their companies. But many leaders miss the intangible elements, like commitment, trust, and enthusiasm, that are equally important elements of transformation success. Savvy leaders craft authentic, compelling communications capable of reaching both hearts and minds, leading to successfully adopted change.
Written by: Mike Bentley, Managing Director, Deloitte Consulting LLP
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