Change is hard work. Talking about change is the job of leaders, and it too is hard work. It requires the same attention to detail as making sure the change itself is successful. As a leader, you and your teams have likely devoted considerable time to planning and implementing change – be it an organizational re-structuring, a digital modernization, stand-up of a PMO, or perhaps an enterprise risk management program. But, if you haven’t given as much thought to how you will announce the change, that’s a mistake. How should you prepare? What should you – or shouldn’t you – say?
Here are some dos …
Anticipate questions. What is changing? Why? And why now? What impact(s) will the change have on staff? What benefits will it have for your organization and those whom you serve? What can people expect will happen next? If you can’t answer each of these questions, you aren’t ready to “announce” the change. And, while you shouldn’t wait to have every step in your change plan locked down, if you don’t know the answer to each of these questions, then you aren’t ready to make the change.
Schedule one-on-ones. Think about who will need a private moment with you before you make the announcement, say at an All Hands or a Staff Meeting? Who should sit in on those with you? Who are others who need awareness before you “go public?” Have you equipped your leadership team(s) with the understanding and insights – and the talking points – they will need to support the change with a unified voice?
Road test your messaging. Get feedback to see whether it has the impact you intend. Remember: You have “been with” this change for some time, planning and preparing, but your audiences haven’t had that proximity to what is about to occur. They know nothing – or perhaps they know something but conceivably what they know may not be completely accurate. How will they “hear” what you have to say? Try out your remarks with some stakeholders whom you trust will be candid with you – then adjust accordingly before it’s time to announce.
Be concrete and specific. Give examples. Don’t say “more efficient, more effective, more strategic…” People won’t know what that means. If you can’t give an example, you either don’t have one, in which case what is the reason for changing in the first place? Or, if you know of a specific but can’t say what it is, then perhaps you aren’t ready to announce the change.
Bring the outside in: Your external messaging should be part of your internal messaging. Your staff needs to hear the thinking and rationale you are communicating to stakeholders, customers, industry partners, legislators and regulators. This helps them understand what is being said and why and helps them “see” their organization in the context of how others perceive it “out there in the world.”
And some don’ts…
Don’t over-emphasize what isn’t changing. Explain what is changing and what’s staying the same but beware of inadvertently setting up an expectation that once this change is behind us, we can all move on. Change typically opens the door to more change that you may not see today but that will seem necessary, useful, even inevitable tomorrow. You don’t want to make people nervous, but don’t anesthetize them with the notion that ok, this is final, and we’re done now. That’s simply not the world we live in.
Don’t assume that the people who are the happiest to receive news about the change at the onset will remain the happiest, nor should you assume that those who are skeptical or sitting on the fence will remain there. People’s perceptions shift back and forth – often quickly – as they transition from the current state to the new state. Be prepared for these reactions – and start by being honest with yourself: how are you experiencing and taking in the changes that are occurring? Your willingness to change is ground zero for empathy – and empathy is an oft-neglected change leadership imperative.
Don’t delay: Get the word out as soon as it is prudent to do so. Don’t wait to try and get everything perfect or “finalized” because if these are your standards you will never announce. Share what you know, be upfront about what you don’t, and commit to informing and engaging your teams and stakeholders along the way.
Don’t stop. Once you’ve made the announcement, you aren’t done so don’t disappear. Stay present. Sit in the break room – virtual or actual. Invite conversations. Ask: What else needs to happen to improve how we work? To serve our customers better? To compete? Weave information about what is changing into the day-to-day narrative. Make change a familiar part of how your teams do business and think about the future.
Successful implementation of the change you’re planning ties significantly to what is said, who says it, how it’s said and when. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it pays to have an announcement strategy.