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Change Leadership: Message Matters and Tips from Change Management Coaching/Advising

Whether you believe in the direction of a new administration or the strategy of your new CEO, in the early days of change, the voice, presence, and message of leadership done well inspires change from within each of us (or evokes fear of the unknown if not done so well). It’s a visceral call to something bigger than what we are experiencing today, something bigger than any one of us and perhaps all of us together can define today, for this moment; but with the overlay of our hopes, definitions, projections—what we are called to change within ourselves individually shapes that vision even further and stokes the coals of action or at least the sparks of a growing awareness and understanding. Leadership holds that vision, evokes that possibility of hope, of something bigger, higher, better with words…until action may or may not follow.

In the early stages of change when most followers are in denial, showing resistance, and/or are unaware of the specifics you intend to change and why, the gaps between the current situation and the rationale for change are essential. For some leaders we have witnessed in the campaign and in protests, there have been examples across the spectrum of clear, compelling voices articulating what they stand for; across to the other side of the spectrum where others simply yell profanities, shouts for what they are against, calls of hatred, and hand gestures of immature irreverence.

Of course, organizational change is different than political change, isn’t it? I can recall leading a few cross-organizational initiatives in systems of several thousand employees and hundreds of managers feeling like I needed a campaign manager. Surely, there should be widespread support for a continuous improvement effort, called for by the new senior executive, right? Yet those ostensibly “positive” or “developmental” or “progress-driven” initiatives still seemed to evoke many radicals, protesters, supporters and fearful opponents, many times with resistance going underground rather than being vocally, professionally expressed in an open meeting forum.

When organizational change leaders, with or without direct reports, are called to sponsor and lead change, best practices and research in change management offers some simple guidance about communication messaging in this early stage of change, by clarifying:

  1. The current situation and the rationale for the change (what the audience can relate to, not just what the leader relates to)
  2. Business issues or drivers that create a need for change such as: Competitive issues or changes in the marketplace, in the community, in the sector, with legislation, etc. that translate to customer issues, financial issues, employee issues
  3. What might happen if a change is not made and the organization (or country or district, etc.) stays the same.

Dr. L. Melanie Chase, a change strategist/advisor, facilitator, and coach works with individuals, groups, and organizations to build sustainable change and effectiveness, empowered by collaborative methods. Learn more at www.changesolutions.us, visit her on LinkedIn and follow her on twitter at @ChgSolutionsUS. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and Tucson, Arizona.