The global head of change management for a $35 billion, 100,000-employee company, criticized corporate communication professionals for their inadequate change practices in his address to the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) at its inaugural conference in early May.
He said communicators tend to focus only on telling about the change; they don’t recognize that change means doing something differently. He continued that they don’t provide clear calls to action.
Nor do they adequately address or deal with behavior change. He also complained that he can’t count on them to get involved in all the other steps required for successful change—even when they want to call themselves change experts.
Although it hurt to hear him say this, I acknowledge he made some valid points. Communicators often tell and sell with an SOS mindset. We’re shoveling out stuff or becoming afflicted with shiny object syndrome rather than actively helping colleagues navigate the path to change.
And when we take time for professional development, we often gravitate toward traditional communication conferences. Those conferences tend to concentrate on the tools of the trade, such as technical writing and editing skills, measurement, social media, etc. where we all talk shop.
By contrast, take the ACMP conference. Of the 700 plus people there, less than 3% are responsible for communication, based on the job titles of all the registrants. ACMP is the professional association for change management leaders, so I would have hoped and expected to see more change communicators there.
(To ACMP’s credit, almost 10% of the presentations were about social media, the only communication topic covered. [This included my presentation, Tweet This: Leveraging social media for organizational change.] Communication was woven into several of the sessions.)
So what can we communicators do to expand our perspective on change and be a more trusted change partner?
We need to take time to fully understand the change, including what exactly people need to do differently and why. We also need to understand how we as communicators will work with other change leaders to prepare employees to adopt changes.
Then, we need to take a break from our keyboards and assume these additional responsibilities:
1. Talk with colleagues more. Observe. Go to the gemba where employees are working.
For example, one of the change leaders I talked with at the conference said that she spends about 90% of her time during a change initiative talking formally and informally with co-workers either at their worksite or in meetings. Her goals are to listen to their concerns, answer their questions, reinforce the change, coach them, identify barriers, and take whatever actions she needs to lower resistance and clear the path to change.
2. Take the pulse of people. Use surveys, focus groups, or other just-in-time measurement practices on a regular basis. Then based on the data you gathered, facilitate dialogue about what actions to take to support the change, including removing barriers.
3. Coach leaders on how to match their words and actions. Besides helping with alignment, we should advise leaders on what symbolic deeds they can do to show people they’re serious about change.
4. Facilitate meetings and events with work teams, project teams, and others about how to accelerate the change.
5. Lead by example. We communicators should consider ourselves change leaders. That means we need to role model the changes we want our organizations and colleagues to implement.
If you want to be a successful change champ in your organization, you can take on other roles too—assuming you have the skills, relationships, and credibility.
First though, change your mindset. You need to recognize that you can’t just inform. You need to get involved and get others to join you.
Second, if you have the will but not the way, get training and on-the-job support. (Yours truly is available to help.)
What are you doing to lead the way and clear the path for change in your organization?