Monthly Archives: June 2011

Key Messages are Key during Organizational Change

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We have seen more organizations than we care to remember that have waited and waited and waited and waited to say anything at all about a change that was being implemented.  And when they finally did start talking, it was as if a flood of information had just breached a levee.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of the “flood” style of communications, you know it isn’t really effective.  In fact, burying people in details about something that is happening in an organization before people even know “why” is this happening actually usually backfires.  People shut down, tune it out, and duck into their cubes to wait for it all to pass.

Understanding the key messages that should be sent about a change at any given time is critical to effective communication and change management.  Outlining what to communicate and when is a great start to ensuring that a consistent and relevant message stream reaches people in the organization.

To make it simple, start with outlining your initial “level 1 messages.”  These are simple statements that answer questions such as: What is this project or change?  How does this link to other projects or initiatives going on?  Why is this important?  What is the end result? What is the timing?

If any of the “simple statements” above is more than 30 words, try again.  It is too much.

The “level 1 messages” should be consistent throughout the project and set the context from beginning to end.  It is like saying we are taking a trip from New York to California.  We will have different messages along the way about where we are, who is driving, sights along the way, etc…. but we always tie our messages back to the fact that we are on a trip from New York to California.

Next, develop “level 2 messages” that address group specific impacts and concerns. These might change over time as we learn more and additional concerns are unearthed.  But start by developing answers to the following questions for each group that will be impacted:  What specific impacts will this group have?  How will specific concerns for this group be addressed?  What specific job changes will happen?

The key messages are a critical component of an effective change management program.  If you can’t answer some of these questions now about a change you are involved with or are managing, most likely impacted stakeholders can’t either.  And until they can, the change won’t stick.

The Importance of Followers by Stacy Aaron

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You can tell a lot about a leader by the actions of his or her followers. This follower was only mentioned once at the very end of an article in the New York Times. I read this quote by Mr. McCall, who is 76 years old, which made me want to write about followers:

I’ll follow Father Marek wherever he goes. I told him, ‘don’t stop fast because I’ll run into you’

I don’t personally know Mr. McCall or Father Marek but I can tell a lot from this quote. Mr. McCall is a follower and with followers like that, I think Father Marek has a good chance of accomplishing whatever vision he’s created. From that quote, I know Father Marek is about change. He has inspired people like Mr. McCall to change and change fast. Anyone who can inspire that type of commitment to change is a leader.

All leaders need good followers. Followers understand the leader’s vision and can translate it to their work, their level. Followers ask questions. Followers express their support to others. Followers do what is asked and volunteer for more. Followers share their ideas on how to make the vision work. Followers get stuff done.

Followers don’t want to let the leader down. They believe in the direction that leader is forging. They run close behind that leader, focused and determined, committed, like Mr McCall. They count on that leader not to stop. As Mr. McCall so eloquently puts it, if the leader does stop, someone might get hurt! Followers count on the leader to forge ahead, to keep going.

I can’t decide who is more impressive Father Marek or Mr. McCall and maybe I don’t have to choose. I can’t decide who needs whom more. They both play an important role in driving change. More attention needs to be paid to the awesome followers out there. Not everyone can, should be or even wants to be a leader, thank goodness. Obviously, Mr. McCall is inspired by Father Marek but most likely the opposite is happening too. Father Marek is inspired by Mr. McCall’s faith in him, by Mr. McCall’s commitment to him. I’m sure Father Marek doesn’t want to let Mr. McCall down. So starting today, let’s look at an expanded scope of what is really happening around us. Let’s not just focus on leaders and potential leaders. Let’s also focus on the followers. They are just as important to driving change.