This article was originally published on Forbes.com.
Times of transformation — whether by design or due to a crisis — will test an organization’s resilience, confidence, and culture. Many people resist change because it threatens their sense of security, and they will require not only more frequent but more thoughtful communications to get onboard and move in a new direction.
If you’re a leader guiding your organization in a new direction, keep these best practices in mind as you craft your communication plan:
- Lead the narrative. In the absence of information, people fill in the gaps themselves and usually paint things in the worst light. Take control of the narrative by communicating early and often, staying ahead of the “grapevine” and setting the tone and content.
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and tell them again. A message sent is not always a message received. People often need to hear information many times before it sets in or before they actually believe it’s real. Be sure to repeat key messages often, even within the same presentation, to ensure they are heard.
- Trust is built via a series of kept promises. Even within established teams, times of great change require new connections of trust to be built. In communications that speak to the future, be sure that promises made are kept, and in communications that look back, that kept promises are celebrated.
- Be visible at the helm. The senior leader is a “canary in the coal mine” for the entire organization, especially in times of change. It’s more important than ever to be visibly present steering the ship and leading with visible confidence.
- Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the end of the day, your employees are all human beings who seek security even before fulfillment. In times of change, don’t forget to speak to their concerns for their jobs, their roles, how changes might impact them, and where they fit in the new future.
- Build momentum by celebrating successes along the way. With each step forward on a new path and every success that comes with it, employees’ anxieties about the change are diminished. Be sure to flag, highlight and celebrate successes, both small and large, whenever you can.
- Make sure your leadership team has the playbook and sticks to it. It is critical that employees hear the same messages from your executives as they do from the leader. Consistency builds confidence; variance builds confusion. The best teams document their mission, vision, strategy, values, etc. and even develop standard scripts about how to talk about them, so they present the information consistently and with confidence.
- Build listening posts and respond sincerely. Communication goes in both directions and knowing what’s on employees’ minds helps the leader anticipate, not react to employee concerns. If you can build “listening posts” such as brown bag meetings, feedback loops, or other methods, you’ll know what’s beginning to “trend” in employees’ minds and get in front of the messaging before it gets in front of you.
- Be accessible. The soft stuff matters in times of transition. Not only does a new direction require trust building, communication and support for employees, it also requires increased guidance from the leader to support the many “course corrections” that will be required with new ways of working.
- Show them the vision, but keep them focused on the road map. Every great journey begins with a few steps, and helping employees see the next steps to take breaks the journey into smaller, more achievable units. Then, with the endpoint in mind, every step builds cumulative momentum towards achieving the goal.
Remember, at the end of the day, people will follow you if you’re leading them to a better place. Paint the vision, explain why, show them how, and you’ll all get there together.
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