Communication at the heart of Change
If you are in business, your business is changing. Whether you are a start up filling a niche, a market maker defining a new competitive space, or a dominant industry player fighting for every iota of share, you are (or should be) driving change. You have to lead that change, not respond to it. In 1995 John Kotter of Harvard Business School wrote the classic article, Why Transformation Efforts Fail.
*I occasionally make sketchnotes for myself of articles I find interesting. Making them helps me learn, think and talk about the subject. This is one of a series. If you want, you can download a copy from Slideshare.
Under the banner of communication, Kotter talks about the need for message discipline as a Key element of change.
- Convince people of the need for change. A frank conversation of potentially unpleasant facts about new competition, shrinking margins, decreasing market share… and other equally depressing subjects. All aimed with lighting a fire to the Status Quo. See Step 1. Establishing a sense of urgency.
- Get the right people together. Someone needs to get the people together, help them develop a shared assessment of their company’s problems and opportunities, and create a minimum level of trust and communication… have an offsite, and take a cold look at the reality we face. It won’t get done in a 2 hour meeting or a phone call. See Step 2. Form a powerful guiding coalition.
- Get the vision down. A vision goes beyond the numbers that are found in the five year plan, it says something that helps clarify the direction in which the organization needs to move… Remember, a vision statement is an oxymoron. People need to be able to see themselves in the picture. That probably means there is a picture, with people in it, doing something. See Step 3. Create a Vision.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Kotter says that executives who communicate well incorporate messages into their hour-by-hour activities… You’ve built a message platform around the vision. You have a few simple messages to communicate out the why, what and how of the change. The trick is to build on that platform. The new product release should reference back. The ops review should reference back. The town hall should reference back. The recognition awards should reference back. You get the idea. See Step 4. Communicate the Vision.
- Remove all obstacles (including the mental ones). Too often, the obstacle is the elephant in a person’s head. Real or imagined, the blocker impedes change… There are often subtle but definite markers of the old way. Not dealing with them upfront is a not so subtle hint that the old way is OK. When making the elephant dance, Gerstner dealt with these symbols of change at IBM, selling 350 paintings from its art collection, and closing the executive dining rooms. See Step 5. Empower others to act on the Vision.