A few months ago, I was asked to speak at a corporate event involving the announcement of some major changes both to the organization’s structure and employees’ roles and responsibilities. About 200 senior managers and executives were in the room.
As the CEO reached the podium, a huge banner unfolded with the message: Vision 2014. The CEO then explained that the organization was transforming from what he called a “transactional based business” to one much more focused on adding value to the customer.
He enthusiastically talked about the importance of “seizing this window of opportunity”, “raising the bar” and “moving into the 21st century” in terms of how the company did business. He noted that employees would need to shed the old ways and, instead, assume new roles and competencies to align the company for future success.
After about 30 minutes, the CEO paused and asked, “Any questions..?”
An awkward silence engulfed the room as people looked away nervously. At that point, the CEO turned to me and whispered, “That’s great – they must have got it!”, and off he went back to head office.
As we broke for coffee, the hallways were instantly abuzz with questions and chatter about what people had just heard.
This brief scenario illustrates a major problem in getting buy-in to change; that is, the real conversation must happen in the room, not outside in the hallways, or parking lots.
The reality was, employees didn’t feel engaged or safe to ask questions. They were likely worried about looking “offside” when the CEO was so committed and positive. The CEO’s message didn’t connect with them; if anything, the message was off-putting.
Let me offer a much better way to communicate change that can significantly raise the odds of change success. I refer to this process the 4-Box Strategic Influencing Model, seen below.
Here’s how the 4-box model works:
Step One: The communicator must first explain the reasons for the change. It is virtually impossible for people to accept change if they don’t understand the rationale driving that change. All too often, employees lack commitment because they simply don’t understand the logic. Communicators must use facts and language that is grounded in reality. Stakeholders being asked to change must feel this rationale represents their reality and is not simply perceived as “corporate-speak”.
Step Two: The communicator then needs to address the benefits of the change but in a way that resonates with those being asked to change. Furthermore, when extolling the virtues of change, the communicator must initially keep this brief – otherwise, it comes across as hype or “cheerleading”.
Step Three: At this point, it is critical to talk about what the audience would see as the downsides to the change, as well as talk about how the organization and its leaders will lessen these issues and concerns. That does not mean that the organization can “fix” everything; it can’t. But what is important is the acknowledging of these issues and a demonstration of genuine intent to help with these issues.
Equally important at step three, the communicator needs to invite stakeholders to work with the organization to find solutions to the challenges presented by the change.
Step Four: Finally, the communicator must specify those things people value that won’t be impacted by the change. Put simply, communicators must talk not only about what is changing, but also about what is staying the same.
This has a calming effect on those who are convinced that “everything is changing” and reassures people that this change will be reasoned and balanced, not just “change for change’s sake”.
I have used this 4-box model with numerous client organizations both for large scale change and smaller changes as well, with excellent results. By following this process, you will notice new attitudes and needed behaviours from people being asked to change. The 4-box model leads to understanding and ultimately commitment to very important organizational goals.