Effective Solutions Through Partnership

3 Things Leaders Can Do to Be Better Change Agents

Best Practices, Communications, Employee Engagement, Managing/Leadership, Organizational Change Management (OCM)

By Denise Larcade, CSM, CSPO, LSSGB, Prosci

One of the most common things I’ve seen through numerous mergers and acquisitions or other major change events within an organization is the lack of engagement and communications from leadership.

Oftentimes, leaders are so busy leading the change, they forget to play an active role in the communications process.

Unfortunately, not adequately communicating change events to staff can cause the rumor mill to start churning (at best) or employee upheaval (at worst).

Luckily, there are some easy ways leaders can mitigate the feelings of confusion and disorder for employees that often come with times of change:

  1. Be Present

As a leader, your physical presence is not only needed, it’s required. Your employees need to see you at town hall meetings, open forums, staff meetings, etc. Anywhere their presence is mandatory, yours should be too.

We know you’re busy; it’s likely not possible for you to attend every town hall meeting across all shifts. Plus, you are already involved in the planning process, so why would you need to be present at these meetings? Remember, your staff doesn’t necessarily know what you know, nor do they know how much you know.

Be present by attending the last 5-10 minutes of each meetings. At the meeting, engage employees by asking questions:

  • What did you learn today?
  • How was this meeting valuable?
  • What can we do better next time?

This shows you are engaged in the discussion while also getting direct feedback on how the communications process can be improved going forward.

  1. Be Honest

The rumor mill can start for numerous reasons:

  • Leaders themselves are not sure about what’s going on within the organization and so they avoid discussions about it
  • The information cascade is not working effectively
  • Employees pick up on small changes in attitude and draw their own conclusions about what’s going on—Joe seemed grumpy today, that must mean a layoff is going to happen.

No matter how the rumors start, it’s important to address them directly, rather than hope they go away. To identify which rumors are out there, try implementing smaller focus group-like sessions. These sessions should include people from across all different departments and should be facilitated by a member of the leadership team who does not directly supervise any of the staff in attendance.

Scheduling these focus groups can be tricky at first (you can schedule video calls with remote teams), but the benefits are numerous. Allowing staff to talk through whatever is on their mind in a small group setting brings about honest conversation, as well as informing leadership about which rumors are out there and need to be addressed.

You can squash the rumors in the focus group itself, as well as address the rumors at the next open forum or town hall. Remember to put questions and answers in a shared location so that all staff can see what was discussed. I recommended keeping the identity of the question-askers anonymous.

For longer change activities—6 months or more—consider setting up an internal webpage or SharePoint where people can ask questions and leadership can provide answers. If updated regularly, this forum can become the first place people look for an answer to a question, and a good way to stop a rumor before it begins.

  1. Be Early

Engage staff early in the change process. If their department is likely to be effected, let them know as soon as it’s appropriate. When possible, bring them into the process to get their feedback about the future state and how they think roles, responsibilities, and procedures should change. When it’s time to implement any changes, employees will be more likely to accept the changes, since they were brought in from the beginning.

It’s also advisable to communicate when you’re going to communicate. Set up a framework or schedule around when people can expect to hear communications and in what form. Whether it’s a monthly town hall meeting on the third Wednesday of the month or an informational email digest each Friday afternoon, set expectations early around when staff will hear updates. The rumor mill has less of a chance to churn if employees know they are scheduled to receive an update at a previously-appointed time.

Change is going to happen whether we like it or not. As a leader, remember to be honest, present, and early in your change communications so that staff is informed, accepts, and is prepared for the change.

About the Author: Denise Larcade is an Organizational Development Consultant and Merger and Acquisitions Expert. She has over 25 years of experience in training, development, and leading companies through organizational change management. Denise has worked in corporate retail, technology, and government healthcare and most recently has experience with large-scale implementations nationwide. She currently works as an Executive Consultant with KAI Partners, Inc., providing client support to one of KAI Partners’ state clients. Denise grew up in the Silicon Valley and relocated to Utah and Idaho before recently returning to her native California roots.

2 Comments

  1. Melanie Yadon

    April 19, 2017 2:50 pm

    Denise, you are SPOT ON!
    We all need to remember we are Leaders who impact others directly and/or indirectly. We all experience change every day of our lives that transforms us in various ways. As Leaders, we need to be intentional and present in how we effect change so we can deliver amazing and positive impact! Honesty and transparency with ourselves as well as with those around us helps us increase the ‘rate of adoption’ in everything we are transforming. Thank you for reminding us about the critical elements of change and how we, as Leaders and Change Agents, need to ‘show up’.

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