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Leaders in Change | If a tree falls – the power of communication

Liz Elder

Liz Elder

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Following the success of our Leaders in Change breakfasts last year, we have made a commitment to invest in eight further breakfasts this year, allowing us to take a deep dive into the challenges of leading change, and creating a community for leaders to share their experiences.

Facilitated once again by Andrew Rolf of Cursive Consulting, our first event of 2018 was held at the excellent Capital One offices and focused on the theme of New Year. New Start. Old Communications?

We started off the session discussing the value of communication in any change project. Even the most comprehensive and considered Gantt charts and strategy documents can only do so much to deliver a change project without effective communication. But creating and delivering meaningful comms that effectively invigorate teams and drive transformation is definitely easier said than done.

Here are some of our takeaways from the session.

Be authentic

The room shared some examples of communication they respected, and a consistent theme was around authenticity.

More leaders are taking a more ‘down to earth’ approach, holding their hands up to mistakes, and cutting down on their use of business jargon when interacting with stakeholders. But this approach isn’t always straightforward if you’re leading change across teams in different cultures. What can help here is focusing on delivering consistent messaging – whether that be a weekly company newsletter or a personal message to each employee.

It’s also important to get comfortable with unstructured communication. Leaders in change aren’t always naturally confident at this type of interaction. The instinct to plan and consider can be hard to overcome. But stepping out of this comfort zone, and putting yourself out there in a ‘town hall’ situation where you are listening, and not just broadcasting information will help your stakeholders voice what matters to them. This, in turn, will help you to understand where you need to go next, in both your comms, and in your transformation.

Channel your communication

There was a really interesting discussion around communications channels – especially with the rise of tools like Slack.

All these tools can be valuable, but it can be difficult to keep them focused. Instant messaging and the rise of emojis and gifs have helped to create a new ‘de-formalised’ style of communication. But this communication has no style guide, so it’s easy to end up overusing it, or stretching its functions to accommodate new issues. Over time this ‘feature-creep’ can dilute your communications among multiple threads (and cat gifs).

That’s not to say these kinds of tools can’t be incredibly useful, but you need to have a clear vision of the relevance and purpose that they bring to your communication.

You also need to be mindful of your stakeholders as users – every new bit of tech has a learning curve, and adoption of communication platforms can create somewhat of a tribal division between those who are comfortable with using something, and those who aren’t.

Taking a multi-channel approach to communication channels can help allow for stakeholders to view different windows into the same story.

‘Slower’ mediums such as a long form email, or a presentation, encourage you to stop and think about the message, but necessarily make it harder to have instant conversations – that’s where a Slack channel or Whatsapp group can add real value.

The challenge is making sure everyone is on the same page. 

Get to the point

For many people, the notion of change brings a fear – a fear of instability, of increased workload or a cultural shift. As such, a big part of an organisational change is in reframing a change project as not just something being done to people, but something they are a part of.

A great diagram can cut through a thousand words. There are many useful existing visualisations around change and transformation, or a bespoke diagram can also be effective. What is important is that the diagram effectively communicates the vision of the change project, and helps everyone involved with a project understand what the ambition of the project is, and where they fit in.

One guest gave the comparison of the design double diamond. A well-known and simple diagram, it underpins the design process and ensures that even complex ideas and discussion are focused on the big picture – designing an effective solution for users. Nothing more, nothing less.

Andrew also raised a great point around reframing change around the user. There's a lot of discussion about the purpose and impact of change - but sometimes the language of transformation focuses more on internal changes and process rather than external users. This means that different teams can have different deliverables and focuses. Positioning the purpose of change around the users of your product or service in your communications, ensures everyone can comfortably answer the question 'what am I trying to achieve?', and makes it a lot easier to define and action KPIs that align across the organisation.

Communication tactics and solutions vary across industries, but communication is integral to the success of any change or transformation project and is what drives real impact - in my opinion, it's the most critical aspect of any project. As the saying goes, 'if a tree falls If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?".

Communication enables action, and engages and connects stakeholders. The challenge is ensuring the messages and delivery is effective.

To receive details of our upcoming events in 2018, or you'd like to discuss the role of communication in change, please get in touch at liz@wearefutureheads.co.uk.

About Cursive Consulting

Founded in 2015 by Andrew Rolf, Cursive Consulting works across the technology and media sector, developing and delivering change projects, specifically digital transformation, product innovation, and organisational change. Prior to his own consultancy, Andrew was Head of Customer Experience at KPMG Boxwood and Head of Commercial Delivery at Guardian News and Media, as part of the senior team responsible for the Guardian’s award-winning relaunch of their website and mobile live news apps. Areas of interest Andrew would like to touch upon during our roundtable include: change within agencies, and resilience – a common theme he is finding, given uncertain times.