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May 2, 2018

Change vs. Churn? The Difference is Effective Leadership Communication – Guest Blogger, Microsoft's Robert Ford


Change is good. It is common wisdom today that we all need to embrace it. Yet too much of what goes on in organizations today isn’t really about change. Instead, “churn” probably better describes a lot of the activity, mainly because of poor leadership communication.

Effective leadership communication is often overlooked or not given the reverence it deserves. After all, in today’s ever more digital world, people are still the reason change lands well. People – and the way they communicate – are actually what drives positive transformation.

We know many leaders are intelligent and experienced, and often have great strategic ideas and direction. So, why is that strategic direction is changed so often? Are we changing because the strategy we currently follow really needs it, or are we changing because leaders never effectively communicated the strategy in the first place, and now feel compelled to drive more change (or is that churn) to show progress? If we are honest, the answer is probably a bit of both. This means that as leaders, we can and should do better. 

Communication as a Fundamental Leadership Skill 

What’s to be done about this? Much. This problem is more than just a few communications professionals adding their magic to cascading emails. Effective leadership communication is a fundamental leadership skill that requires focus, investment and determination, and it needs to start at the top. Once leaders master the skill, they also need to help model a stronger process throughout the organization.  

ceo-mistakes-ebook-1The senior management team worked tirelessly on your organization’s strategic plan, but what about the plan for activating the strategy within your organization? This eBook teaches CEOs (and senior most leaders!) what they need to do to make their strategy a reality. Click here to get started today.

3 Simple Steps to Ensure Your Message Lands 

The best leaders inspire their teams to do their best by being very clear about the strategy and vision. However, too often leaders are the only ones who fully understand the strategy, leaving everyone else to churn in a vacuum, acting on gut instincts or rounds of skilled editors. A better approach is for leaders to master communicating the strategy using three obvious, but often overlooked, leadership communication fundamentals. Those fundamentals include:  

Step 1: Decide to Make Communications Strategic 

You need to make communications integral to the final strategy and not just an afterthought tool for execution. To stand any chance of landing sustainable change, leaders need to know how to communicate the best message, one that is authentic, has purpose and inspires. They can only do this through the right channels, measured against well-considered organizational and communications goals. With employee attention being the new scarce resource, make communicators and the skill of communicating strategic in your company, or simply accept churn.  

Step 2: Ensure Your Messaging Provides Line of Sight for Everyone Inside the Organization

Everyone needs to understand the strategy, why any changes are needed, and what the direction means for them personally. This is all about creating line of sight from the highest company vision on through to the inspiring message an employee receives. The first task is to get the leader’s mandate clear and articulated in their words. It’s also critically important that leaders throughout the organization know what they need to consistently amplify, and they also need help to add their own voice and provide the type of context that means something to their audience. In other words, help all your leaders land the message. We know that a huge percentage of communication is more than just words, and so work with leaders to ensure the message they send is authentic and inspiring. 

To ensure a message is truly received, marketers often argue that you need to repeat a message seven times in seven different ways for it to stick. That might not always be possible, so try to double down on the most powerful channel you have – the leader.  Expect push back, as you may nudge leaders into uncomfortable territory, but persevere. Successful change happens when leaders communicate effectively. Otherwise, you’ll have to simply accept churn.  

Step 3: Hold Leaders Accountable to Communicate

To ensure all your initial efforts have a long-term impact, you need to keep the heat on leaders to make communication a regular, key priority. If an employee is not engaged, inspired and lacks clarity, is it because the message needs to change, or is it because the messenger (leader) didn’t effectively communicate? In my experience, we seem to default to the message and punt responsibility back up the organization chart, asking for more clarity or revision. Don’t get me wrong, this could be the right course of action to take. However, it’s also important to first check that the message sent is the message that was received, and to hold leaders accountable to effectively communicate. 

It’s easy to dismiss some of these important steps because they may require some deep thinking, and a change in how your organization has always handled communication. But I can assure you, digging in now will produce positive results well into the future. It will be the difference between just another churn and real, lasting change for your organization – and real results. 

—Robert Ford 


About the Author

Robert Ford is Senior Director of Core Services Engineering for Microsoft. He tells the Microsoft IT story to customers and partners by showcasing how Microsoft does IT.

Click below to download the eBook—The Mistakes CEOs Can't Help But Make, and the Fixes They Can't Afford Not to Make—that teaches CEOs (and senior most leaders!) what they need to do to make the strategy a reality. 

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