Stop being as clear as mud

by | Mar 26, 2013 | Blog | 0 comments

The irony struck me while preparing to moderate the panel “Communicating Change: Best Practices in Change Management Communications” for the San Francisco Chapter of IABC (International Association of Change Management Professionals).

“Change” and “clarity” are two words that we commonly use on the surface without fully exploring their depth. As a result, we may inadvertently mislead people and confuse them further.

As background, the organizers of the SF-IABC event and I asked the panelists from Bayer HealthCare, Chevron, The Clorox Company, McKesson and Wells Fargo to share a case study describing their change management initiative and then share their lessons learned.

Referring to their case studies as change initiatives was a misnomer. It would be like calling last fall’s super storm Hurricane Sandy a rain shower.

The organizational changes they were sharing were like most these days—not a simple change from one way of operating to another. No well-defined, orderly incremental steps.

Instead, these were transformations. With transformations, we break from the past and move to a future that we can’t see from our present positions. Our leaders may be able to paint a vision, but it’s an ambiguous picture.

In transformations, we’re changing form and function with many simultaneous, interactive moving parts.

That’s why change is hard for many. We’re dealing with complexity and many unknowns, especially if we’re also juggling multiple transformations in our work and personal lives.

No wonder we prefer to use the simple one-syllable word “change.”

The four-syllable “transformation” taxes our brains. Combine it with the three-syllable word “management” and “transformation management ” becomes a mouthful as well as an eye-glazing moment.

Even the phrase “change management” reeks of business speak-bingo instead of a practical, principled way to adapt to new circumstances.

We also muddy up the waters when we talk about the value of having simple clarity about the change or the transformation.

We need clarity on at least three levels: the ideas, articulation of those ideas and the actions needed to execute on those ideas.

For example, take the clarity of your ideas, which includes the transformation your organization needs to take. Are you testing your ideas with stakeholders to make sure your stakeholders understand them and consider them relevant? Are you considering how  your organization culture may support or suppress your ideas?

As for the clarity of the expression,  are you being specific, succinct and memorable? Are you choosing your words carefully, not sugar-coating? Are you using metaphors, which are a powerful way to express an idea through more a memorable visual?

Then when it’s time to call people to action, how explicit are you about the actions that you need others to take? Also, are you leading by example? How well do your words and actions match? Are you syncing up your words and actions to align with the type of transformation?

For example, if we’re advocating a break with past practices, we need to show that with our actions, including using a different communication style or method. If it’s an organizational transformation with a personal component—such as total rewards—we should be personal with our approach, including the communication, as one of our panelists explained.

Just as the road to good intentions is paved with hell, the path to clear change is dotted with mud puddles.

Are you wallowing in mud or basking in clarity?


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