Absence of Communication Undermines Reputation and Future Change

I recently talked to Jeremy, a staff member whose organization is changing from one type of work structure to another.  Prior to the change, each work unit in the organization made recommendations on how the allocation of work in their area, who should do the work, and the timelines that should apply.  According to Jeremy, the recommendations were well thought out and developed through extensive individual and group meetings within each of the work units.  Once completed, the recommendations were forward to the Rebecca, the senior manager responsible for reviewing all the recommendations and determining how best to incorporate them in the new structure.

Everything seemed to work fine until Rebecca began informing the work units of her decisions.  According to Jeremy, Rebecca’s decisions ignored many of his work unit’s recommendations with no explanation why.  When he went to his unit manager to find out on what basis Rebecca was making her decisions, his manager replied “I don’t know”.  People in Jeremy’s unit were perplexed, confused, and upset.  They felt betrayed and there was a substantial increase in gossiping and complaining about Rebecca.  Some people even quit their jobs.

Change leaders like Rebecca have to make tough decisions and are accountable for those decisions.  But Rebecca could have reduced the damage both to her reputation and the future receptivity of people to change if she had engaged in understanding conversations with people prior to her decisions and closure conversations after.

Not Telling Them Undermines Integrity

Managers undermine their integrity in following a “don’t tell them” strategy.

The topic in my leading change class today was integrity and its impact on a leader’s ability to effect change.  Integrity was defined as honoring your word and doing what you said you would do by when you said you would do it and if you are not going to do what you said, to communicate fully to everyone affected as soon as you know you won’t be going what you said so that they can make the appropriate and necessary accommodations.  During the discussion, several students told of job situations in which projects they were working on were not going to get done when promised, but were told by their immediate managers not to tell the project clients.  The reasoning was that if the clients were told before the due date, they would question the manger’s competence.  However, once the deadline was missed, other factors could be blamed.

Although managers may think this “don’t tell them” strategy protects them from looking bad, it actually undermines their integrity and reputations.  Each of the students involved in these situations said they lost respect and regard for the managers involved.  This is unfortunate since all the managers needed to do to maintain their integrity was to have closure conversations with their clients.

Having one closure conversation, even if it may be a little uncomfortable, seems like a small price to pay for keeping one’s integrity and the respect of others.

Successful Change Uses the Four Conversations

Successful change depends on the use of the four conversations.  I recently led an MBA course on Leading and Managing Change to a group of practicing managers in which they were required to produce an “impossible change” – one that was currently well beyond their position and capability to produce.  In other words, they couldn’t “just do it”, but needed the assistance and cooperation of others.  At the end of the quarter, 75% of the class successfully produced their change.  And what was the secret to their success?  Their effectiveness in using the four conversations.

As one manager explained, “It is my assessment that the success of my change has been a direct function of the choice, use, and content of the conversations I used to communicate with members of my team to adequately illustrate the shared value of the desired future state I believed we could achieve.  I feel it is important to highlight the power of utilizing a well-placed closure conversation to establish my credibility with the Senior Bankers that comprised my team.  Upon the onset of my initiative, it was evident that many of the Senior Bankers were experiencing fatigue and frustration with the ongoing efforts to support the merger of Their Bank with Our Bank.  By connecting with these individuals through the use of closure conversations, I made a concerted effort to acknowledge the additional time and effort that they have already contributed to making the merger a success. Prior to this acknowledgement, the majority of the Senior Bankers were of the belief that few individuals “truly” understood how requests of their time to complete merger related tasks negatively impacted their ability to complete their regular job assignments.

“Providing the Senior Bankers with this recognition of their  efforts allowed many of them to move past their feelings of resentment towards being asked to accommodate a change in the way they conducted a profit analysis of  corporate clients.  Giving this recognition fostered my ability to successfully propose my initiative in a manner that enlisted their active support for the desired future state instead of exacerbating their previous state of dejection towards new demands on their time.

“I discovered the value that can be produced through deliberately planned conversations with the individuals whom I hoped to enlist in the support of my change.  This willingness to place faith in the success of my change as a product of communication allowed me to view the concept of a “conversation” as something more than interpersonal discourse.  I began to view the four conversations as a tool to be used to deliberately manage the evolution and direction of my change . In recognizing these conversations as a tool to be used in implementing of my change, I was able to view myself as a manager of change from the perspective of a “facilitator of action” rather than as an authoritative figure who viewed the accomplishment of  change as a function of ordering an action and expecting a corresponding re-action.”

Communication is key to the accomplishment of change, but not any communication.  As this manager illustrates, successful change is a product of using the appropriate types of productive conversations.