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Getting the Message Right: The First Step in an Effective Change Management Process

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richardsonsalestraining19 November 2012Blog

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Before embarking on a change initiative sales leaders must ensure that they are clear on how they plan to communicate the impetus and plan for the change.

Step 1: Refine the message

The first step in an effective change management process is for leadership to get the message right. And the way to do that is to try to connect what each person's role in the change is, back up to the highest-level organisation vision.

Many leaders have a tendency to speak in lofty terms and insider jargon while extolling their “big picture” vision — no matter who their audience is. True, they need to get their pitch down pat and reinforce their conviction through the repeated telling of their story. But leaders should also realise that each audience is different, which includes having a unique perspective about what they’re hearing and its impact on them.

So as leaders deliver their spiel, they must keep in mind their audience, which can range from outsiders — such as journalists, industry analysts, clients, and suppliers — to colleagues from the boardroom to the shop room and all levels in between. Make each group feel like you’re speaking to them and not rattling off a prepared script. Help them to connect the dots of what’s changing, why, and how they’ll benefit.

For example, we have a client with a goal of doubling market share by 2020. From this goal, their leadership has identified strategies — e.g., talent, product, and process — to achieve the goal. And they have selected key initiatives to help them execute the strategies. A considerable amount of thinking and work goes into determining where they will place their bets (bets being time, personnel, budget, and other resources). The next big question that our client asks is, “What is my role as a leader to drive these initiatives?”

We help them construct that story. When there isn’t a clear vision at the top, the initiative faces difficulties. When leaders talk about training, many of their people will ask, “Why am I doing this? Is it just to give me training, or is there a reason that you are having us do these things?” If leaders can’t respond, that fuels uncertainty and drains support for the initiative. In another client, the head of their Mortgage division didn't have a story to tell, but people were asking for it. They wanted to know, “Why are we doing all of this now? Why are we disrupting the way we do things?” The division leader has now agreed to get his team together to go through this workshop, the first step of which is to complete the story.

It’s also important to remember that the story should evolve over time as you progress through the transition and achieve milestones along the way. If you’re still telling the same story a year later to the same people, their eyes will surely glaze over from boredom and the realisation that you either haven’t really accomplished much or that you’re hopelessly out of touch.

Step 2: Define “What’s in it for me” (WIIFM) for each role

The second step in the workshop is to not only clearly define each leadership level's role but also what they should do differently on a day-to-day basis. How will they support this big change? What should they do more or less of? The more specific you can be for each role, the greater clarity you’ll provide so that they can focus on doing that which matters to the change efforts.

Leaders should identify the structure of contact at each level and build verification and feedback loops. Verification is asking different kinds of questions to confirm that what should be happening on the front line is really happening and then giving feedback to reinforce the expectation that it will continue to happen.

Step 3: Ensure that leaders are active participants

When we conduct this workshop with clients, it typically involves everybody up to the level of the division president. These executives leave the workshop thinking, “Okay, now I know what I am supposed to do.” Downstream, when this happens, one thing you notice is these sales leaders and sales managers together in the classroom fully engaged. In fact, they kick off the classroom training by articulating exactly why they are there and exactly what they want their people to do. It is very clear that they are engaged and involved — it gives the training legs.

It is not enough to focus sales training efforts on front-line managers and on salespeople and pull the leaders in for a half-day briefing so they know what their people are learning. It has to be a major red flag when the leadership isn't fully behind or doesn't fully understand, the investment. Then, it becomes lip service.

There is a very tangible difference when we observe a workshop from the back of the classroom, and we see leaders sitting in the back. It is nice that they are there. That is a step ahead of many organisations, but they are sitting in the back watching. It is much more powerful when the leaders are up front, not only introducing but walking around, coaching, and engrossed in it the whole time. It’s not difficult to know which groups will be more effective in getting the change to stick when they return to work. 

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