In the SEAL Teams, our mission narrative is clear because it has been defined and redefined by brave men that forged the path ahead of us. A powerful vision for change is most effective when understood and embraced by most of the people within an organization. Sharing a common sense of what the new future will look like energizes the team and helps them deal with the pains of change—it steadies their resolve, even in the worst of conditions.
But effectively communicating the new vision and gaining commitment across the organization can be a monumental task, especially in large corporations. Managers and leaders too often under-communicate a great vision, or they over-communicate a weak vision. And sometimes messaging is misaligned. The result is the same in any of those cases.
There are many great companies out there that have no shortage of extremely smart and talented people. They know what needs to happen and are able to take immediate stock of the kind of change plans being promoted.
A leadership team can lock itself behind closed doors and come up with a comprehensive change plan, then spend hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars pushing and promoting the plan but totally fail at properly communicating the vision.
For many of the reasons already noted. Under-communicating. Over-communicating the wrong things. Lack of alignment. Behavioral and structural barriers. Failures at the data analysis and mission planning level.
Is this uncommon? Not at all. So how can organizations avoid all this and get it right from the beginning? I call it The Five T’s of Change Communication.
• Technique: The communication of a powerful vision is only as good as how it’s delivered and how likely the organization is to align behind it. Do vertical and horizontal silos exist that will blur the message? Is the message simple and authentic? Will everyone be able to emotionally connect to the cause? A well-defined internal (and sometimes external) communications strategy should be laid out ahead of time and embraced by senior leaders and the transformation task force before any messaging is delivered.
• Timing: The vision should be powerfully communicated early, often, and always. Some parts of the plan should be rolled out and communicated throughout the process so as not to overwhelm the workforce with information they don’t need yet. Saying things like, “More details to come on this, but we don’t need to worry about this part just yet.” Repetition is important, and not just at every company meeting or in every newsletter. Executives, managers, and change agents from the transformation task force should find multiple opportunities every day to weave the vision into casual conversation. This exponentially multiplies the frequency of communication in many different forums.
• Tools: As mentioned before, the tools and channels used should vary—especially in today’s multigenerational workforce. Leverage social media networks, video platforms, and easily sharable content so employees can digest information at their own pace but also interact with one another when they have questions or want to provide feedback. But again, consistency with aligned messaging is imperative. It doesn’t matter what tools or channels you use if you don’t get that part right.
• Temperament: Change can be scary and stressful. The temperament used when communicating will determine how it’s perceived. Senior leaders, managers, and members of the transformation task force should maintain a positive mental attitude especially when communicating the bad with the good. When confronted with questions and team members having doubts, those are all great opportunities to reinvigorate employees and get them excited about the mission once again. Again, calm is contagious and having explanations backed by real data is critical.
• Transparency: Transparency builds trust, one of the most important aspects of an organization that will navigate change successfully. Don’t make the communication and progress updates always about how well things are going. If you’re hitting roadblocks, and you will, everyone will know it anyway. Get issues on the table, address them in real time and allow the team to influence the processes for improvement. Transparency in feedback goes both ways. Encourage everyone on the team to voice their opinion as needed up the chain.
Aligned communication must flow seamlessly up, down, and across the organization for a change strategy to succeed and its initiatives to become ingrained in the culture. What could the return on investment be on that?
The sky is the limit.
This excerpt is from Brent Gleeson's first book, Taking Point, published by Simon & Schuster.
Brent Gleeson is a highly sought-after business consultant, a serial entrepreneur, and a decorated Navy SEAL. He has degrees in finance and economics from Southern Methodist University, English and history from Oxford University, and a graduate business degree from the University of San Diego. As a member of SEAL Team 5, Gleeson’s platoon had some of the first SEALs deployed to Iraq in early 2003. He served several tours in Iraq, Africa, and other theaters of war. After returning to civilian life, he built award-winning, multi-million dollar organizations that were repeatedly named in the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing private companies. He has been featured on many business podcasts and local and national news channels such as CNBC, Fox, CBS, NBC, ABC, TMZ, and the Discovery Channel. For the past for years he’s written about business and change in his two regular business columns in Forbes and Inc. TakingPoint is his first book.