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April 22, 2019

Leadership Communication Drives Organizational Transformation – Guest Blogger Robert Ford


It often seems there is an invisible rubber band tethering a person to their past, to what we know to be safe and familiar. If you have studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or think about your own experiences, you will recognize this human trait. For purposes of this blog, let me call this the personal elasticity of change.  

Overcoming this powerful, common force and driving the organization forward is the challenge of leadership at all levels. It is the territory where leadership communication is absolutely critical and needs to set the tone from the start for transformational success. Ideally, we need a strong energy guiding the organization forward as one, to a future you as the leaders have clearly articulated; connecting, engaging and inspiring all in pursuit of lofty transformation goals.   

At your senior leadership level it all makes so much sense. So where is the disconnect with your internal stakeholders? Why do even some of the most well intended leadership communications create more confusion than clarity? What leads to a feeling of being “talked at” by leadership even when you as a leader try hard for this not to be the case?  

The Change is Not the Issue

When we step back, we generally see the change itself is not the issue. To stay ahead in today’s digital economy the kind of truly transformational and visionary change super smart leaders can create is needed and can be achieved. 

The answer is simple. It’s what I refer to as  the “lasso and yank” syndrome. After the initial leadership messaging, with accompanying fanfare, there is an expectation that simply momentum will carry everyone forward, overcoming that natural force pulling them back to what’s safe and familiar. This idea is usually flawed and leaves the onus to drive change squarely in the C-Suite. 

It really doesn’t have to be like this. Leadership communication is the kryptonite to the personal elasticity of change that gets in the way of individuals driving your organizational transformation. Every communication matters. 

tip-sheet-10-tips-for-guiding-culture-change-600x460Organizations with effective change and communication are 3.5 times as likely to significantly outperform their peers—use this free tip sheet to guide you. On just one page you'll get 10 tips, each with a brief description on how to get there. Click here to get started.

Communication from Leadership is a Must-Have

Don’t listen to those telling you that you are communicating too much. Don’t let leadership hide behind “change fatigue” or “we don’t want to defocus the troops” excuses as reasons not to communicate. When leadership communication is absent during change, as an individual it is the loudest, clearest most powerful message heard.   

The loud silence between “lasso and yank” leadership moments can have a profound impact on the individual, none of them optimal. Alienation can happen, diverting the focus to updating LinkedIn profiles. Creating distance from the change can occur, with that rubber-band gently drag pulling some back to what’s safe and familiar. Paralysis can be induced in the organization as folks wait to be told what to do, or worst, multiple versions of the truth get created and wasted effort expended. All of these do little to drive the transformational change desired – they do quite the opposite. 

So, how do we make this change for change to happen?

Here are 5 tips that have helped me:

1. Create a leadership communication mandate that connects me, inspires me and tells me what I should do. Ensure EVERY leader in the organization can and does authentically articulate this mandate with clarity, context and energy to EVERY individual being asked to transform. 

2. Address the past as well as the present and future. We need to reference the context to make the path forward clear and logical. Outlining your plan in this way also illustrates the why.

3. Provide continual reinforcement with a careful eye on communication dead-spots. Remember you need an individual to maintain forward momentum, ideally in the direction you want. Transformational change communication is not a one-and-done thing. Leadership communication investment and accountability is required.

4. Show real progress through real stories. Yes, the top-level metrics and enthusiastic rah-rah are required, but for people to see this transformation is working and real people are seeing the fruits of the change; highlight these stories and the people involved whenever possible.

5. Engage stakeholders at all levels of your organization for feedback on your communication activities and adjust your plans as needed. Keep in mind that to be most effective, your plans need to be flexible and responsive. 

How will you leverage a better understanding of human nature going forward to make your organization’s plans for the future most successful?

—Robert Ford

About the Author

Robert Ford is President of The Ford Consultancy Group, an advisory business and a partner to organizations digitally transforming to accelerate business performance. In three words, digital done right. He is an accomplished, creative and highly experienced digital transformation expert. Having been integral to Microsoft's own internal IT transformation, Robert brings a proven blueprint, strategic guidance and hands-on experience to fast track a company’s successful digital transformation.

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10 Tips for Guiding Culture Change Tip Sheet

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