Most organizations are in the throes of multiple changes, requiring leaders at all levels to be masterful in how they communicate. Staff resistance can be exasperated by faulty change messages that do a poor job of explaining why something different is needed. With so much change in the works, everyone is touchy about adding one more thing to their overflowing plates. Ease the burden by following these change messaging guidelines.
Explain what’s wrong with the way things are now.
Too often leaders begin by trying to sell a predetermined change. If staff members are attached to the way things are now, expect them to kick and scream when they are asked to let go. Instead, start by making clear what is faulty about the status quo. Project what will happen if things stagnate. For example, if physicians in a healthcare organization are balking at the introduction of the electronic medical record, demonstrate how, if they don’t embrace the change, they will soon be unable to successfully interface with other organizations to provide for a patient’s continuum of care.
Give compelling reasons, tailored for your staff.
Build the case for the change in a manner that will best capture your staff members’ attention. If they are analytic, use facts. If they are more emotive, use compelling stories. If they are hands-on and practical, provide experiences. For example, if you believe customer service needs improvement in your work unit, you can make the case for change by showing statistics that demonstrate low levels of customer satisfaction. Or, you could tell stories related by customers who have experienced lousy service. Using focus groups of customers, you could also have staff members conduct interviews to find out for themselves what customers think of their service.
Make sure they know what they stand to gain.
Don’t focus only on what’s in it for the organization to embrace the change. Delineate how staff members might personally benefit: new learning, up-to-date skills, promotional opportunities, more efficiencies, better teamwork.
Acknowledge staff members’ feelings. Change often means losing something with which they are attached. Allow for some venting and assure your staff that you realize change is not always easy.
Engage them in shaping the change.
Assuming upper level leaders have not spelled out the change in detail, invite the staff to help create the change. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard University professor, has said, “Change is a threat when done to me, but on opportunity when done by me.” Avoid spelling out exactly what the change will look like. Let the staff work with you to ensure they have a voice in creating their future.
Don’t leave them hanging.
Map out the next steps. Assemble an advisory group to help you, if the size of your group makes full engagement difficult. Post the road map and religiously monitor it.
Remember that c*hange messages need to be said over and over again. Each person hears and reads things with a different interpretation. Make sure you, not the grapevine, control the narrative.
By following these guidelines with each change you introduce, you will build the ability to effectively craft change messages. And, most importantly, your staff will have more clarity and understanding of why change is necessary, allowing them to more easily accept what the future holds.
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