28/04/2015

By Gary Wyles, Managing Director of Festo Training & Consulting


We all need to change. We all have to adapt to survive. We all need to grow to remain strong in the market. Change is a constant state for successful organisations. New ideas, innovations, experiences, feedback help us alter and tailor our response. This is fine when you’re an entrepreneur or a small team. You can quickly communicate your ideas. You’ll seek feedback from a trusted team of partners. You’ll collaborate closely to ensure things happen and progress – together.

As the organisation grows and the number of people employed multiplies, this ability to respond quickly seems to get diluted. Now you have to motivate and engage a wider team. You’ll have to trust your leaders and managers to deliver the message to your people. And you’ll have to deal with their reactions.

Not everyone is equipped to handle change. Entrepreneurs definitely are. By the nature of starting and building a business, they are risk takers and innovators. But those involved in a larger organisation might not be. They might prefer stability. They might want to maintain a status quo. They might prefer comfort.

Yet, the success of any type of change relies on them being on-board. They’re the ones that will be working to deliver success. That’s why change management is crucial. Core to successful proactive change management is communication.

As a Managing Director who has led and instigated many change projects, I work on the basis of three aspects of communication – head, heart and hand.

Many leaders focus on the head. That’s the information. They’ll present the facts, figures and logical reasons for change. The business will prepare projections and schedules. There will be fancy presentations and difficult to understand spreadsheets. While this is a very important part of the planning and process, it only delivers information.

The second part of this process is about communicating to the heart. Soft? Touchy-feely? Perhaps you might think so, but it is essential. Communicating to the heart is about the emotional factors. It’s about painting a vision of the future that people want to be part of. It’s about creating a culture that people desire. It’s about engaging people at more than a rational or remunerative level. Reaching people on an emotional level helps to contain the flood of emotional responses that people can have when faced with change.

Let’s put it another way. A business might be in financial difficulty. This could be for a number of reasons. Perhaps it’s poor financial management that’s lead to a cash-flow crisis. Perhaps it’s because the market has moved on and there’s not been enough innovation. It could be because of sub-standard customer service.

A logical, head-based, approach would present an urgent, turnaround change project. It would look at a financial plan to get you out of trouble. It would put an immediate halt to extraneous expenses. It might divert more income to R&D, taking it away from other departments. It might be parachuting in a customer-service expert to change behaviours. These are all perfectly sensible and a strong rational response to the issues at hand.

What this response doesn’t address is the fact that your employees will likely have foreseen some of these issues. They might not know the extent, but they’ll certainly not trust the current leadership if there is not a full and frank disclosure about what has led the current situation. And their emotional response? Do you think they’ll trust you to manage the change? Do you think they’ll support it? Or, do you think that their first response would be to tidy-up their CV and start looking for another role?

However, if leaders communicated to the heart, as well as the head, the outcome could, and should, be different. Reaching people at an emotional level is about demonstrating three key principles – honesty, integrity and authenticity. They have to trust what you’re saying, otherwise they’ll see through any form of communication as a crass attempt at manipulation.

Communicating to and from the heart is certainly not a soft option. It’s certainly not touchy-feely. It is perhaps one of the greatest fears of leaders. For many people, owning up to what went wrong shows vulnerability and fallibility. That’s fine. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We all learn from our mistakes. In Google Books, there are 12,300,000 books on failure. It’s a common human experience.

The final step communicating change is about the hand. I visualise this as helping someone to their feet or to climb up a steep learning curve. As leaders and managers, we have to have our hand outstretched at all times. We need to be there to guide our people through change. We have to give them a lift up when they’re down. And yes, we might have to put gentle pressure on their back (not a shove) to move them towards the right path.

A humbling point for a leader is when you’re down and your people stretch out their hand to you. That’s when you know you’ll have success - because then you really are all in it together.