Learning & Development
Are your managers ready to lead through a transition?
By Crystal Hyde
Significant transitions, or pivots, are a necessary part of business growth. They require large investments in strategizing, implementing and communicating with internal teams to deliver the desired result.
To do it well, there needs to be a certain level of rigor to ensure time is spent wisely, efforts are maximized, and communications are clear and comprehensive.
It’s not always easy.
Identifying and planning to introduce a change are huge undertakings. Preparing leaders to introduce, communicate and advocate for change requires an equally focused effort to bring everyone along together.
Common mistakes can derail your efforts
When working through change, leaders often worry about saying too much or “the wrong thing.”
In one example, a new CEO was handed the daunting task of reducing the workforce and had little experience with big transitions. Her fear of saying the wrong thing resulted in communication that was inconsistent and not frequent enough. Her senior leaders were not informed enough and not prepared to answer questions. This vacuum of information fuelled a rumour mill and an environment of uncertainty.
When employees are uncertain, their work productivity falls.
In another case, the CEO insisted on being the approver and author of every communication on every topic in every department, in an attempt to demonstrate their support of a change and “lead” it.
This approach, while seemingly admirable, diluted the bench strength of the leadership team by taking credit for their departmental work and minimizing their perceived authority.
Being prepared to answer the tough questions
A major transition requires its own set of defined messages, meetings and approach to inspire teams to act and adopt new behaviours.
Leaders are the models of this change by adapting their behaviours and leadership style to effectively introduce the change with confidence.
Level-setting the leadership team with their own leadership coaching and training to prepare them for what’s to come will make the entire process run more smoothly.
Equipping the leadership team with talking points is not going to make them advocates not matter how hard they try.
For example, while training a leadership team, I had them role play employee conversations. We ran through some of the standard questions from our prepared FAQ sheet.
When I went off script and asked difficult questions like, “If my job is secure but others are leaving, what does that mean for my workload? Will I have to do Jason’s job, too?” And followed with “Will I still get my bonus this year?” The room was silent and everyone was wide-eyed.
The participant I chose was tongue-tied because these questions were not part of a corporate script.
That’s the reality of change. That’s what leaders need to prepare for to confidently communicate with their actual employees — the ones they have relationships with.
While these may seem like bold questions to ask a leader, they are common questions that come with change. Also, many work environments function less by title and more as colleagues and friends who have lunch together and talk about our families.
These relationships make for better work environments and create an expectation of full disclosure.
Leaders with access to highly confidential information every day worry that not disclosing information is lying.
It can feel that way, but company information is not playground gossip. In a business context, information sharing can have serious financial, legal and survival implications and therefore communicating authentically means telling the simple truth about the information.
The key to good communication and authentic leadership is to communicate the right thing, to the right people at the right time.
Saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t have more details to share yet” or “I will let you know as soon as I can” is totally acceptable because it’s true. Often times, leaders need permission to be honest about why they cannot or do not share information. No one should lie, instead leaders need to know what they can and cannot share and explain why.
Leadership communication at all levels is crucial to successfully introduce a change or navigate a business through a significant transition.
Preparing for a change means preparing leaders to lead it.
Change requires a different perspective because everything is new. Clear, steady, frequent, authentic communication is required to ensure the right people, know the right things at the right time.
Prepare your leaders to communicate effectively by giving them permission to be open and together you will gain respect and embed real change in your organization.
Crystal Hyde is a professional certified coach in Waterloo, Ont., and founder of Propel Leadership Coaching, which specializes in consultative coaching for executives, teams and emerging leaders.
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