A client once said to me, “We can change anything we want, as long as we don’t change anything.” While this client’s attitude is admittedly unique, I do believe that to some degree it reflects most people’s attitude towards change. In a business climate where both the amount and pace of change are increasing, leading change has become a significant part of every leader’s responsibility.
I believe that focusing on three key concepts can provide leaders with a process for managing change that makes change easier to accept, understand, and embrace.
In any change effort, CONTEXT is crucial. Context can be defined here as any additional information that brings understanding. In any change situation, employees want answers to three critical questions: What is happening? Why is it happening? How will it affect me? Leaders must be prepared to address these questions in sufficient detail to create understanding at a minimum and agreement at an optimum. Context is not one-size fits-all. Each constituency will require a unique context based on how the change effort will affect it. The creation of context should be a significant part of any change plan. Once sufficient context has been provided, leaders can move on to the next concept.
CLARITY in change efforts means providing a vivid picture of what things look like when the change is complete? In the absence of a desired end state, change is likely to be perceived as a never-ending process having adverse individual consequences at some point. Even though additional changes may be likely, each change effort needs to be able to be explained in terms of its own desired end. Like context, clarity must be created based upon individual constituencies. Each picture of the desired end must fit together like puzzle pieces to create a picture of the overall desired end.
Once context and clarity have been established, leaders must relentlessly COMMUNICATE them throughout the change process. Leaders must take ownership of the communication process and accept responsibility for ensuring that the message is received in the manner intended. When communicating context and clarity in a change process once is never enough. My advice to clients engaged in change initiatives is always, “If you think you have communicated enough, triple your efforts.” In leading and managing change, there can never be enough communication around context and clarity.
Change happens. By focusing on context, clarity, and communication; leaders can make the change process smoother, more efficient, and easier for employees to embrace and engage.