The Hardest Thing to get Right – How to Solve Your Communication Issue

When a client had just completed a merger, they were shooting for the top spot in the market. While the physical aspects of the merger, such as housing and IT, went well, the cultural merger was dragging behind. The company struggled to overhaul work procedures and create a general work philosophy across all units. As a result, performance and morale were fading, and client satisfaction dropped.

Every business I’ve ever worked with had a ’communication issue’, according to people we interviewed at the start of a project. Blaming it on poor communication is a different way of saying that there is a lack of change leadership, and no change management system in place.

Organizations regularly cause significant damage by neglecting the need for such systems. There are various change models, such as Kübler-Ross, Adkar, or McKinsey’s 7S. I won’t discuss these models here but focus on what they have in common: the importance of communication.

While a company can have a certain culture, for example slow to adopt change, its current mood can be very different. Mood may be triggered by external factors, or a sudden awareness that a business stands in flames. Panic and fear as well as hopes and desires, have the power to strongly influence an organization’s mood.

The Right Communication Can Move Mountains

With a proper communication approach, leaders might be able to push for a level of change that would seem impossible in regular times. These inflection points require a swift answer, like an unexpected change in an industry’s regulatory environment.

Expectations and experience of an organization about strategy and change should inform your communication. Analyze the types of communication worked well in the past, and why; you can build on these experiences. Also, there might be communication you should avoid to prevent overwhelming people.

Are people expecting leadership to just lead, and they will follow, because they fully trust in their capabilities? Or do they want to have a say and take an active part in shaping the future? How can you engage them early on? How much communication, about what topics, will the organization expect, and need?

Communication Goes Both Ways – Establish a Dialog

Organizations are usually not democracies. Leadership decides, management executes – but making strategy and change communication a one-way road, a purely top-down led approach, is certainly not helpful.

Engage your organization early on, in meaningful two-way dialog about vision, strategy, impact, and values. Listen to what people want to contribute and let them take an active role in workshops, focus groups, and surveys.

It might slow down the design process in the beginning: more opinions, more problems. But once you’ve worked through the cacophony, a new organizational identity will stand on a broad and stable basis. If you neglect these voices don’t expect people to love what they see when you present the final product.

Try to over-communicate (even if it’s not possible)

Engage your people early, communicate, and listen. This will make your life way easier when you start rolling out a new strategy. Ultimately, people are more likely to support a world that they co-created.

For the client I mentioned at the beginning, a true test came when leadership announced they would shut down a site, consolidating operations into one hub. Leadership expected that morale and productivity would plummet, when the opposite happened: employees understood the decision.

They had internalized the company strategy through relentless communication. An unexpectedly high number of employees from the closing site applied for other jobs in the new hub, even if this meant moving halfway across the country.

Trying to over-communicate helped leadership reach their people and bring them along the journey of strategic change.

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Main Image by John de Jong