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.

You must be New! 5 Things You Should Never Do Coming into an Organization

It is very difficult to come into an organization as a new middle manager – or any level for that matter – but, I have found it most difficult when you’re a layer or two below the top of the organization.

Off the bat…you have no history, no relationships and no credibility. You’re not one of the gang; you don’t know the secret knock. You don’t even have the reputation of being an outside consultant – a hired gun parachuted in to fix something and then you’re out.

You live in the middle gray area of not being on the team but hired to build or fix something from within. This can be a lonely place at first. As such, there are 5 things you should never do on your way in that might inhibit your chances to make friends and gain entry to the club.


  1. Eat your lunch at your desk. Lunch is the perfect opportunity to get to know people outside of the workplace on a personal level but also in a safe environment so people can be candid with you. Lunch is a very disarming situation and, best of all, it is outside of a boring beige conference room!
  2. Pine for your past. People don’t really want to hear about your past lives. They may want to get to know you a little bit but don’t belabor what you have achieved in the past. People don’t want to hear: “Well, at my last company…” too many times. It is a turn-off. Instead focus on what you think is possible and what excites you about this opportunity.
  3. Ignore their past. Don’t brush over what has been tried before at the present company. Oftentimes, what has been done could have been quite good; there may not have been enough buy-in or focus on change management. Be sure to pay homage to the past. Recognize it, take what’s good and keep it (and communicate that broadly); reinvent, carefully, what does not work.
  4. Build your plan right away. Even if you know what needs to be changed and how to do it within 30 days, resist the urge. Give it 90-100 days. Grab your pipe and magnifying glass and go to work Sherlock Holmes style. Discover what your stakeholders need and really give good thought on how to get it done. This shows you can listen.
  5. Do nothing for 6 months. Don’t act too quickly but there is a sweet spot between giving enough time to build credibility through listening and doing something to prove your value. So, be sure to not only have your plan ready in 90-100 days but achieve a “plus one”– one tangible, achievable outcome along with the plan within that timeframe.

Do We Sell or Tell To Get Action?

take.action.tour_Social is here but is it driving people to action? We have spent decades researching and discovering how to communicate, motivate and collaborate with people. We’ve studied generational and cultural differences; methods and techniques; channel and venues. We pour over statistics to make informed decisions. But, is any of this helping us get people to read or listen? I know there are many of you who would have statistics to tell me “yes”!

I learned a long time ago that people pay attention to communications from the top. As flat as we’d like to be, if my manager or anyone in my chain sends me an email, text, IM or blog, I will read it. But, now we have social experts telling us that peer review and peer opinion drive eye-catching interest and translate into action. That we listen to and trust our peers more than our “superiors”. I feel that is true but maybe in a different context.

I personally believe that to motivate different behavior, a message from my manager will motivate me to change but so will a message from a trusted colleague IFthat message has a story I can relate to and a result that is impactful enough. From the top, it’s enough to TELL me what is expected. From my peers, it’s all about SELLing me to get me to change.

Imagine if the tell and sell could be combined in a communication strategy – managers AND peers? I think that would double your success for changing behavior, which is the intended result of most communication strategies.