When Does Leadership Support Become Saturation? 5 Ways to Engage Leaders Effectively in Change.

Every change management expert will tell you that Leadership support and sponsorship is key to effecting true change. But, how much is too much? Do very vocal leaders inspire eye rolls instead of compliance? Do they tune people in or tune them out?

There is a sweet spot between active leadership sponsorship and leadership saturation. For most of us, this is never a question. We strive very hard to get leaders on board, get their buy-in, get them to integrate key messages into all-employee venues, team meetings and corporate updates. But, sometimes, messages get delivered too often or just too often by the same person. People can start to ignore the message.

Most of us in the Communication profession would rather have over-communication than under-communication. I, personally, would rather have someone tell me: “OK. OK. I got it,” than “Wow. This is the first time I am hearing about this!”

But who delivers the message is critical to successful change. If the message only comes from the top then that’s when the sighs, furrowed brows and cynicism can come about. But, when messages are delivered from the top and reinforced at every level of the organization, then it becomes healthy saturation.

Below are 5 tips for engaging and leveraging leaders in change communication:

  1. Kick it off. Having a leader send an initial email, announce during a corporate event or share during employee focus groups is the best way to engage the executive level in change. Having an executive set the stage initially improves the credibility in why we are making the change.
  2. Say it Quarterly. Asking executives to reinforce quarterly until adoption is realized will help keep the message/initiative alive. “One and done” messaging doesn’t work.  However, monthly tends to become a stale, broken record if the same executive and only this executive does all the talking.
  3. Give shout-outs. During quarterly updates, a great way to reinforce is to recognize those adopters – teams or individuals. It is important to ensure that the recognition is around real business value and that the “same people” do not get recognized. You know who these people are. The ones that are always on stage getting the gold medal. Try and encourage the recognition of new people – teams that may not always get in the spotlight. This will help dispel any thoughts of this being an executive’s “pet project”.
  4. Pass the torch. Asking executives to inform their teams to reinforce the message is critical. If the message is only from the top, you may get skepticism. When all leaders down the line are saying the same thing, people will start to get it. Fresh voices help keep the message fresh!
  5. DIY – Do It Yourself. This may be trite but it is true. The quickest path to cynicism is when a leader expects something of the team but doesn’t comply him/herself. This may be simple but it is the single most important step a leader can take to ensure successful change.

7 Questions for Minimum Governance

Implementing a new process or system without governance can lead to chaos. We all know this. But, do too many rules get in the way of adoption?

The answer? Yes, BUT.

Yes. Too many rules can turn people away. Too restrictive of a request or change process can kill any good feelings of a new system. BUT, zero governance can lead to messy system implementations or uneven process adoption, which usually does not meet the business objectives of the new initiative.

So, as in life, work, love and health, BALANCE must be the end goal.

How do you have just enough governance to save people from themselves but not turn them away at the front door of change?

To start a new process or system implementation, we should adopt Minimum Governance so the price of entry isn’t too high and we can show value out of the gates. This is not to say governance can’t be expanded, reduced or altered along the way – it should be. Minimum Governance should answer the following 7 questions:

1. What is the purpose and intended result of this process/system?
2. What human resources will manage and support this effort?
3. What are people supposed to do, specifically, and when?
4. How do people engage in the new process/system?
5. What are the baselines expectations of people (is there a policy to correlate)?
6. How are we going to hold people accountable for meeting expectations?
7. How/From whom do people get training and help?

There are other questions we can answer and should, especially for systems, like design, hierarchy and other tool, data and content standards. However, I caution to keep the standards “light” to start until you get buy-in. Then, people will more likely follow you toward more standardization down the road.

Are “Quick Wins” a Myth?

My whole career I have focused on trying to meet businesses’ needs in many, speedy flavors: quick ramp-ups, 90-day agendas, low-hanging fruit, fast starts, and, of course, quick wins.

The intent of quick wins are to prove that you are credible + trustworthy, you can make stuff happen, you can cut through red tape, you can prove your value, you can execute!

But, in dealing with true cultural change, is there such a thing? I struggle with this concept often because there may be no true quick wins when trying to steer a culture a certain and very different direction from its present state.

In times where execution seems to be difficult and “quick” execution almost impossible, I think the value should be placed more on a tangible action plan where there is an end goal defined and progress can be made and measured along the way to reach that end goal rather than ensuring something…anything gets done or rolled out in a short timeframe.

Inherent in the phrase, we are putting more emphasis on “Quick” than we are “Win” because sometimes (even I will caveat with a “sometimes”) “Quick” can be the enemy of a true “Win”…especially in a long-lasting, integrated into workflow, sticky kind of a way.

I think leaders value progress whether quick or slow. When too much conversation, too many opinions being solicited, too many reviews, too much socializing of concepts and approaches stifle action, that is when the “quick win” card gets played.

Focusing on progress can quench the thirst for results. So, let’s start planning and progressing with those quarterly milestones and start making a difference!

Moving From Full-Service to Self-Service KM

If you work with billable employees, you know there is a constant struggle between how much time they should spend searching for information vs. doing actual billable work. Finding and leveraging past work could increase the firm’s profitability if the re-use can drive down operational time and drive up margin.

From an expense standpoint, do you employ a full-time search specialist to search and retrieve content for consultants, or should the firm invest in technology to enable better, faster self-service?

The numbers are in and self-service should win. Why? Investing in technology does have an upfront investment component to make information more findable but relying on a search specialist leaves the organization vulnerable if that person should move on and take all the intimate knowledge of our work with him/her.

The more billable employees can get their hands directly on content, the more knowledge they have about our previous work, the better equipped they are to present our collective stories in a compelling manner to clients and the more connected they will be to other employees.

The former model connects them to one person; creating a self-service model connects them to many.

Moving from a full-service to a self-service model is a challenging exercise in change management. One that requires the following:

  • Visible sponsorship: A leader’s endorsement is appreciated but visibly promoting and expecting people to engage in new work models and tools goes above just a behind-closed-doors “good idea” compliment.
  • Easy technology: So many platforms exist to enable easy uploading, tagging, commenting and sharing of information. Whatever your platform, it must make people’s jobs easier. Remember that nothing is easier than emailing a search specialist to request they spend time finding and retrieving something you need. But, in the long run, self-service pays back in other ways so demonstrating the simplicity of the process is essential for adoption.
  • Courage (and support) to say “no”: It’s not easy telling someone that instead of searching for them that I will tell you how to do it yourself. Squeaky wheels get the grease, and leadership may be inclined to give in to that person who refuses to post or find information on their own. We must change our behavior to help them change theirs.
  • Reinforce Behavior (again and again and again): Dipping people into one training session and then releasing them into the new frontier doesn’t cut it when changing behavior. In addition to driving people one-on-one to new tools and processes, show success.
    • Try spotlighting a monthly search success to reinforce how easy it is on your intranet.
    • Get champions to live and breath and offer to help those who are having difficulty following the self-service model.
    • Equip managers to hold people accountable for adoption.
    • Be careful with incentives. Incentives sometimes require upping the ante every year to sustain and that, in and of itself, is unsustainable.
    • Appeal to emotion. This is a last resort if stubbornness prevails. Communicate that the new normal is connecting and sharing. If you don’t connect, you’ll be missing the bus!

“Switch” Your Thinking

Just recently, I attended a presentation by Dan Heath covering the tenets of his new book: Switch. Focused solely on how to make change happen, I was struck by the simplicity of the methods. Heath spoke about balancing appealing to the rational and emotional sides of the brain as well as ensuring one’s environment is clear of obstacles.

Simple but powerful. This got me to think about appealing to emotion in the workplace to inspire change. I agree with Heath that we make change decisions, generally, with our emotions not necessarily through logic.

If we were totally rational, then none of us would drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes because, logically, we know they are bad for us. My father is a borderline diabetic and when the doctor told him he was not allowed to eat doughnuts because of their lack of nutritional value, my father quickly countered with: “But, what about their emotional value.”

In the workplace, would appealing to emotion work on enterprise-wide changes, like technology implementations? How would we appeal to emotion to get people to submit stories to our knowledgebase?

I think for years I’ve been trying to rationally sell people on the benefits of sharing – reuse, saves time, better quality product, more collaborative, even increased sales but I wonder about selling on emotion. What would that look like?

Heath relayed a purchasing story where the company’s new head of procurement gathered all the 350 different kind of gloves their plants were independently buying and brought them to a leadership meeting. This was his argument for centralizing purchasing. When the leaders saw all the different gloves and the fact that they were paying different prices for the same glove, they make the switch.

COuld we do the same with storytelling and sharing content? Could we gather all the disparate selling techniques and products we produce to demonstrate how one could have benefited from the other? Would this convince people to start sharing? Hmmm….that might be something I try.