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CultureSep 06, 2019

3 Tips to Help Leaders Communicate Through Change

Laura Hunter, and Daniel Youman

“The leader’s mood and behaviors drive the moods and behaviors of everyone else. A cranky and ruthless boss creates a toxic organization filled with negative under-achievers who ignore opportunities; an inspirational, inclusive leader spawns acolytes for whom any challenge is surmountable.” –Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance

Business leaders continuously face challenges, but among the most difficult is communicating well through change. Leaders must be thoughtful in their approach while discerning how and when to address conflict. Healthy communication leads to successful outcomes; however, poor execution can have lasting repercussions. Especially when leading an organization through change, rallying the company around the mission is just as important as managing the progress and process. Getting employees to believe in a common goal and work toward it is the first step in a successful change initiative.

Credera guides companies through the difficulties of organizational change and implementing new business processes. Our clients are industry leaders, led by agile executives who understand the importance of change adoption and organizational readiness. Credera came alongside PepBoys executives who realized the need to respond to the changing consumer habits in the automotive industry. Their initiative and well-communicated vision generated $100 million in new annual revenue. PepBoys, like many successful organizational change success stories, saw an opportunity to evolve their line of business and has continued to optimize performance.

Based on our extensive experience helping leaders align their vision to enable successful change adoption, we have outlined three leadership recommendations for how to communicate and lead well through change. Credera has found organizational change is communicated well when leaders understand their influence, foster a culture of feedback, and align communication to successfully articulate their vision for change.

1. understand your influence

Leaders are influential for more than their expertise and decision making. Leadership provides answers and guidance but also indirectly influences the overall attitude of an organization. Positivity and reassurance create space for effective leadership and purposeful communication, especially when facing change. In adverse situations when positivity is difficult to maintain, leaders who respond with hope and direction establish trust within their organizations. Leaders need to be positive, but not mislead others by making situations seem rosy and perfect. However, negative perspectives burden the organization and create less of an inviting environment. Mixing transparency and a positive attitude is a balancing act but is a huge skill for leaders to have.

Creating and leading an optimistic culture enables an organization to make impactful decisions with an expectant outlook rather than defeat. Members of a team feed off the environment, leaders have the opportunity and responsibility to create a positive culture. Modeling a respectful culture creates an environment of trust, which in turn makes it easier for end users to believe in the vision laid out by their leaders.

2. foster a culture of feedback

Cultivating an environment that welcomes open communication is essential. Forbes highlighted Credera Partner and Vice President Andrew Warden describing how Credera fosters a successful culture by growing one another. Individual and company growth are achieved by constant feedback from leadership and collaborative teams working to meet shared goals. A culture that welcomes communication with leadership builds strong workplace relationships based on mutual respect.

Leadership familiarity establishes trust, leading to company-wide support for decisions and visions. Therefore, even when resistance and significant changes occur in respectful cultures, there is a foundation of open communication. One of the best ways to establish this culture is for leaders to demonstrate what they do with the feedback they receive. Opening channels of communication is important but acting on the recommendations allows individuals to see their feedback was not lost or neglected. By building this culture, the timidity of asking questions amid organizational change is limited. Foster a supportive culture to encourage respectful feedback, then listen intently to the responses.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey

3. align communication

  • listen & clarify understanding –

    Rather than hearing concerns to formulate a response, successful leaders listen to the motivations of their teams to understand perspectives held by members of their organization. When there is resistance, take time to listen and clarify your understanding of their views. Credera has found the three ingredients to asking and receiving good questions are engaged listening, care for the other person, and a curiosity to learn. Allow time for your organization to both receive and ask questions so they can gain a more well-rounded understanding of any issues and concerns. Purposeful questions are a key ingredient in successful communication.

  • align verbal & non-verbal communication –

    Communication is a combination of content, delivery, and presentation. The vocabulary and message communicated are essential, but the voice and pitch can disclose even more than the content. The delivery of a message, including voice, pitch, and diction, can express emotions left out in the content itself, betraying how the speaker might really feel in a given situation. How a message is presented is dependent on the speaker’s body language and facial expressions. Make sure your non-verbal cues reinforce your intended message and don’t undermine it. Furthermore, the environment in which a message is delivered also plays a major role in how it is received. Keep in mind how the location and context of communication may also prevent your intended meaning from getting across successfully.

    Identifying audience responses is also important, and non-verbal cues are key indicators of how the conversation is going. Knowing how the information is being received allows the speaker to address raised concerns, verify understanding, and limit miscommunications as they occur. As a leader, presentation of self and careful phrasing is essential for productive communication.

  • watch your words –

    “Being more judicial in the words and phrases that you choose to say to your staff can help them take constructive feedback without backlash, boost team morale, and enhance overall productivity.” -“Seven Words Or Phrases To Avoid As A Business Leader (And What To Say Instead)” from Forbes Instead of casting blame or accusations, leaders should focus on encouragement and positive reinforcement. Teams that rally behind a common and cohesive goal prevent segregated individualism or division within the team. Business leaders should focus on motivating the team and meeting goals. In most scenarios harsh words only create another barrier to this objective, eroding the environment of trust carefully built up over months and years.

create a positive and open culture

Credera has found these practices helpful in leading organizations through change. By understanding the influence and impact of leadership, culture is molded around positive and honest perspectives. Fostering that positive culture around open communication allows for feedback and growth. A leader should be careful to align the open communication to convey their intended message by clarifying understanding for every party and using clear verbal and non-verbal communication. By considering and implementing these recommendations for mindful communication, leaders will be able to see results in their organization’s successful adoption of major changes.

Want to learn more about how to lead your organization through change? Interested in strategizing the next steps to innovate your company? Reach us here, we’d be happy to help.