THE POWER OF APPRECIATION: A 3-part Blog Series – Part Two: More than the air we breathe


Part 2 – More than the air we breathe

“Trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”  —Warren Buffett

kayakWhen I first moved to Colorado I was enamored with all the outdoor activities that were possible and I promised myself I would try them all. A number of years ago, I decided that summer would be about learning to whitewater kayak. I had a friend who was a professional kayaker and he offered to take me and a friend out at a nearby creek that was mellow enough we could practice.

A few things to know about whitewater kayaking: Kayaks are small, very small – getting in is difficult and getting out seems nearly impossible. The water in Colorado is cold, like ice-cold – consider it was snow only a few hours ago and this makes sense. And whitewater kayaks tip over easily, very easily. After maybe 15 minutes of paddling, the bow of my kayak caught a little ripple and I learned how all three of those factors can induce immediate panic when you are upside down, underwater, half-way jammed into a plastic coffin. It probably only took a few seconds for me to extricate myself from the boat and resurface but it felt like minutes. And it made me realize how much I appreciated breathing.

All due respect to Mr. Buffet but I think it is more than just noticing the air – I mean I appreciated it. And it’s not just that way with trust or air, it seems to be a theme in most people’s lives. We only seem to appreciate the sun when it’s raining, we only appreciate the rain when everything starts to turn brown, we only appreciate programs and perks when they go away, and a saddening majority of the time we only truly appreciate great people after they have left.

IMPACTS BEYOND RETENTION, ENGAGEMENT, AND PERFORMANCE

Interestingly, the benefits of employees feeling valued and cared for extend far beyond getting good people to stay and perform well. People who feel valued at work report less stress (25% vs 56% of those who do not feel valued) and better overall psychological health (89% vs. 69%). Even more interesting in how feeling valued correlates to employees’ perception of their company and work culture:

 *percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements Feel valued Do not feel valued Variance
Overall, I am satisfied with the growth and development opportunities offered by my employer 75% 10% -65%
I receive adequate monetary compensation for achievements and contributions at work 70% 17% -53%
Overall, I am satisfied with the recognition practices of my employer 75% 7% -68%
My employer regularly makes changes in response to employee feedback 56% 5% -51%

It’s not just about keeping good people; it’s about making good people better; it’s about improving how we feel about coming to work in the morning, and it’s about gaining a stronger sense of self and self-worth. If you want your company to be awesome, you need to start by being awesome. Want to feel more appreciated? Appreciate people more. Want something to change? Then you need to change what you do. Breathe deeply, appreciate it and use that breath to tell someone how much you value them.

Are You Coaching or Do You Just Not Trust Me?


There is a fine line between coaching and making someone feel they are un-trusted to do their jobs. This is especially true in situational coaching where you provide guidance beforehand. The key is who initiates.

The challenge as a manager is often the confusion the feedback loop and coaching messages can send. Largely, the message we receive about feedback is it most effective when it is continuous and ongoing. So often the interpretation is we should give feedback all the time, which is an over simplification.

Coaching is more about the style in which you provide feedback. Essentially it means giving for a very focused improvement a narrowing observation and questions or suggestions that work toward that end. Giving feedback is very broad, but coaching feedback is typically very specific. Which is why there are different types of coaches out there (life coach, batting coach, swimming coach, executive coach, etc.)

Do people need and want feedback? Most certainly. Do people want advice? Not particularly. And when you give it before they take action, you’re giving advice, not feedback – especially if they did not ask you.

I’ll tell you my personal concern and how I internalize advice or “feedback before the fact.” When someone gives me feedback or advice before I do something or without me asking, the assumption I feel they are making is I either do not have the capacity to do it correctly or am not intelligent enough to execute that which I am about to do. Either way, I infer you think I am stupid. Not many people respond well to being called or thought of as stupid. In any event, it makes me feel un-trusted to do a quality job.

And you know what, I may still screw up. In which case, I may welcome and ask for your feedback on how to improve. Assuming I will screw up before I even attempt it is just one way you are telling me – you just don’t trust me.

The Levers of Change


“Give me a lever long enough and fulcrum on which to place it and I shall move the world”

– Archimedes

Levers are powerful things. They built the pyramids, strengthen cranes, help us move, help dig holes, open beer or bottles, and have played a vital role in nearly every technological advancement in human history. And they are one of the most fundamental instruments used to lift, shift, or move anything…including perception and behavior.

Let’s start with a quick review of physics and the parts of the lever. There are two main elements to a lever. The fulcrum, or pivot point the lever rests on, and lever itself. The lever is divided into two segments: the effort arm (where effort is being applied) and the resistance arm (where what you intend to move is located.) The position of the fulcrum determines both the distance and required effort to move something: as the fulcrum gets closer to that which you intend to move the required effort decreases as does the distance the object moves; and vice-versa.

Now let’s relate that to organizational change. Change is almost always individual before it is organizational (ie. you do not get organizational change if individuals do not change.) So organizational change is about moving, elevating, or shifting people (or some element of their behavior, skill, or perception.) For all intents and purposes, people, or in this case, organizational employees act as the resistance (both figuratively and literally in many cases.) The effort is the intervention applied by the change team. The fulcrum, is timing in relation to the change. If you schedule your intervention closer to your change it may take less effort and planning, but it is also going to result in very little movement. This is particularly true of training, communication, or employee involvement. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to plan a last-minute training (generally because it results in shortcuts to effective training design) and it certainly doesn’t take much effort to tell people a week before the change is to occur that it is coming. But if employees don’t seem to change much, it’s because you placed the timing way too close to the change.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were the pyramids. The huge blocks that make up the Egyptian monuments weigh on average 2.5 tons (or about 5000 lbs.) They were lifted through the use of ramps and a series of levers. Not just one. They were moved little by little. And so must be the application of change levers when dealing with large-scale change. If you are trying to move the organization a great deal from its current state, you need to start early (placing the fulcrum as far from the change implementation as you can) and apply a lot of force which is typically unrealistic, or you use a lot of smaller levers that incrementally move your employee base. Thinking a large-scale change will only take one lever is often going to result in a small shift or a great outpouring of effort and cost.

So what are the levers you may ask. There are many methodologies that identify specific (and different) levers as crucial. And I agree with all of them, depending on your change. Here are but a few identified levers of change:

  • communication plans
  • sponsorship roadmap
  • coaching plan
  • training plan
  • resistance management
  • unified vision
  • analyzing change readiness
  • creating urgency
  • involving all stakeholders
  • evaluation
  • systems alignment
  • training and development
  • reinforcement
  • measurement
  • simplification
  • compensation and reward
  • WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)
  • enculturation
  • along with many others (do a quick search for “levers of change” and I am certain you will find lots more)

So which ones are most effective? Well, I am sure each developer (Prosci, Unilever, Primeast, and others) will claim theirs is best. But really they are all important to understand at least to some degree. Any good change manager has a handle on all of these to some degree, despite their methodology (unless they are blinded by their beliefs.) But the key to each of them is the multitude of levers needed to move an organization. One lever is never enough to move anything far enough to represent real change. Whether you are attempting an organizational overhaul through a Business Process Engineering effort or trying to solve a smaller organizational performance issue, the coordinated effort of many levers will get you much farther with less effort than relying on a single intervention.

So while Archimedes may be right that a single lever could move the world, it wouldn’t amount to much more than a wiggle. Using a single lever for organizational change has the same frustrating effect – regardless of how much effort you exert, the organization barely changes at all. If you want real movement and real change, understand the combination of levers that will get you where you want to go, time them effectively, and you can put your organization into a new orbit.

 

“Command and Control” is not about being “Commanding” and “Controlling”


It’s a fairly common confusion; and like most confusions in the workplace, the confusion stems from our interpretations. The problem here lies not in the words themselves but how most people interpret them. It’s easy to do, they are both verbs, right? Nope, not in this case. “Command and Control” is a noun and the two are meant to be used together to name a leadership model, not to describe behavior. This is a huge confusion that most people make and it creates poor leadership. So what does it mean?

Like many leadership systems, “Command and Control”, originated in military study and practice. This association can further exacerbate the confusion for the general population. Most people who hear it or think of the military, think of boot camp or basic training,which has its own rules and is designed for a very specific purpose. Sadly, most people confuse the training model of “boot camp” as the leadership model “command and control.”

At this point is important for you to perhaps know my history. I’m not in the military, I’ve never been in the military. However, I am passionate about leadership, training, and development. And if anyone has the BEST designed training and the most EFFECTIVE leadership in the world…it is the US Military. Basic Training is by far one of the most intensive and effective models of training. It lasts a mere 2-3 months (9 weeks for Army, 12 for Marines) and equips people with a mental, physical, and emotional fortitude that no other training program in the world can match. Now, I say that with this caveat: The training is the best in the world for creating combat ready soldiers. That is, if you are looking at training from a pure perspective as an effective means to increase skills and competencies in a very specific direction, no one does it better.

The leadership model of “Command and Control” is the not a training model. Basic training uses adult learning principles, neuroscience of behavior change, and physiology to achieve its objective. Basic training develops an army of soldiers, not a cadre of strategic leaders…that is what leadership training is for. Leadership training is where “Command and Control” is taught – sometimes by name, sometimes by principle. But the meaning of “Command and Control” is as important as any when it comes to leadership, whether it be in the military or in the civilian world. Also worth noting is that within the US military, leadership development is not reserved just for officers; all levels are expected to understand and practice it. Yes, much of leadership training focuses on military strategy, but the principles of human leadership are ubiquitous (human psychology, sociology, group dynamics, communication, etc.)

So here is the punchline. The “command” in “Command and Control” is about decisiveness – make a decision and ensure its execution. “Control” is the process of collecting information to verify and correct activity such that the objective or goal of command is accomplished. The Marine Corps Doctrine Publication (MCDP) 6 (link to pdf) speaks very specifically of “Command and Control.” Intended as a compliment to the MCDP 1, Warfightingthe MCDP 6 “sees command as the exercise of authority and control as feedback about the effects of the action taken” (page 40) Within the US Army Regulation 600-100, “Army Leadership”, the purpose of developing leadership is to “enable [personnel] to learn and adapt in ambiguous situations in a constantly evolving environment” (1-4.c.) Learning does not happen without feedback…and adaptation in a constantly evolving environment is impossible without a clear exchange of information.

This is no different in the business world than it is in the military. The business environment is constantly evolving and adaptation and learning is a must for success. Leaders and managers need to be decisive when the time calls for it, and with that authority, take responsibility for ensuring its execution – which requires feedback. Too many managers and leaders make decisions from a removed position and rarely ask for feedback. And just as bad as not getting any feedback to inform decisions, is not making a decision at all. Over-collaboration can lead to decision paralysis. You need both. “Control” without “command” is impotent, and “command” without “control” is ignorant. Ignorant, not stupid,. But when it comes to leadership, one is just as bad as the other.

Leaders need both: the willingness and ability to make decisions or exercise “command” and the wisdom to seek constant feedback and information to “control” the effectiveness of those decisions. Understanding the true meaning of “Command and Control” is important, both in reference and in practice. Perpetuating the myth that they are verbs is causing you, your leaders, your employees, and your company a great deal of frustration and pain.

A Simple Question…


In my years as a consultant and working with leaders to develop training I’ve asked a lot of questions: “what is the audience’s previous knowledge level? When and where are you looking to hold the event? Who are the stakeholders?”, etc. But I am always surprised that one simple question stumps most leaders I talk with. And it is this one question that, if left unanswered (or worse, unasked), can hobble an organizations performance improvement efforts. And if you have never asked it, chances are you feel like a hamster running on a big wheel. The Question?

What will people be doing or saying differently as a result of this intervention?

Seems simple enough but each time I ask it, the person across the table sits back and cocks their head to the side and lets out a nice, “hmph.” Usually followed by “that’s a good question” and then a long pause. Some people have even asked if they could get back to me. What surprises me is not so much that they cannot come right back with an answer but that the question itself seems novel. As if a change in behavior was never really even a consideration when picking an intervention.

Now, I won’t lie. Each time I ask this question, I feel particularly brilliant. Not because it is an especially brilliant question but because it reminds me how often people do not begin with the end in mind when it comes to change intervention.  They just want something to change without really considering “into what”. Often times it comes out as – “make the pain go away.” Which is really vague and hard to measure. So I considered how to change the dynamic of the conversation.

As a consultant, I have a money-back guarantee in my contracts. That’s right. If I fail to meet your outcome, I will repay you all of my professional fees. And I have had that in my contracts since I started. After all, if you buy a product and it does not work, you expect your money back – why should a professional service be any different. When I first created this clause, my wife was aghast, “What! Are you crazy?! Don’t put that in there!” I believe was her verbatim response. And I have received similar feedback from other consultants. But it is still there.

Why, you might ask, would I provide such a guarantee in the challenging world of organizational development? Because it allows me to have a more realistic conversation about outcomes, accountability, expectations, and responsibility. The clause stipulates that we (the client and I) must both establish the desired outcomes and measurements ahead of time and agree on them as expected outcomes. It allows me to set realistic expectations based on the level of intervention they are choosing. I have had some people ask for the moon and plan for the budgetary and work equivalent of a slingshot to get there. This evens the conversation because now they are accountable for something if they desire real change.

Most importantly it makes organizational leaders really consider what changes they actually want and forces them to realize that changing behavior is not the same as educating someone. Changing behaviors may require incentives, milestones, performance management, managerial practice changes, organizational structure changes, personnel decisions, etc. Behavior change happens over time, and I am not talking about a 45-minute lunch and learn.

Asking the simple question of “what behaviors do you want to be different?” leads you to the beginning of your gap analysis. It also helps you determine how you will judge success or failure. If you do not know what you want to be different or if you are not willing to be accountable to help make that happen, then save your money and figure out how to tolerate things being the same. If you want change, start with the end in mind so at least you know in which direction to go.

BTW: To date, I have not had to pay any client back for my services. Something my wife is incredibly grateful for. 🙂

Why your leadership development efforts are not netting you more internal promotions…


Paradox Triangle

When perception creates a paradox

There are a number of paradoxes in the modern workplace but one that seems to plague a lot of organizations is leadership development and succession planning not leading to better internal talent or higher retention. And it befuddles HR professionals, senior executives, recruiters, and all employees.

A story (* = fictionalized…kinda)

Ryan* is a 28 yr old IT Jr. Project Specialist and has worked at Vector Resources* for 4 years. Starting as a departmental admin, Ryan proved her ability and moved into the coordinator role after 2 yrs. Since becoming a project coordinator, Ryan has received multiple recognitions from various stakeholders and completed a number of successful projects. She has also taken a few leadership courses and professional development courses as a part of her Individual Development Plan. Now Ryan is looking for her next career step which is to a Project Manager that would include up to two direct reports.  The regional office in New Mexico has an opening for exactly that position. Ryan has long-standing good relationships with the people she would be supervising and they are supportive of her promotion. Ryan’s direct manager feels Ryan would be great in her new role and has acted as an advocate for her promotion as well.

Sounds good, right? She’s got a great track record, recommendations from her boss, colleagues, and recognition from other stakeholders proving her ability to successfully lead projects. Additionally, she knows the company, already has established relationships, understands the strategic vision of Vector Resources, she’s willing to relocate at her own expense, and love’s the company. Seems like a no brainer.

But here is what happens. The position posts internally and Ryan goes through the process and everyone seems to like her…but rather than offer her the job, they decide to post it externally to get some comparisons. EVEN THOUGH SHE IS THE PERFECT CANDIDATE! And here is the kicker, the salary range they are targeting for an external is MORE than they would offer Ryan.

So here is where Ryan sits – capable, recommended, ready, internally knowledgable, and accepting of a lower than external market salary because she loves the company.  Yet, here is the message she is getting – external candidates are worth more AND might be more suitable for a role she is already doing. So regardless of the outcome, Ryan is starting to feel unappreciated leading to disengagement and cynicism towards a company she loved.  Not to mention, the time to fill this valuable position is just getting longer and longer with two direct reports having no manager.

Despite all the things going for her, Ryan is subject to two contributing factors that are roadblocks to internal promotions – her longevity in her position and a concept of internal equity.  Lets look at these individually because they are acting against internal promotions is different ways. One is leadership failure and the other is a cultural failure.

The Paradox of Longevity

Despite the high praise and desire for employee loyalty, it is harmful to your career progression. The culprit to this conundrum is a component of gestalt psychology known as “figure-ground.”  It is a concept of how we perceive things.

Faces or a vase?

Largely illustrated in visual form by optical illusions that show two or more objects depending on how you look at them, the concept of figure ground states that once something emerges from the background as a distinct image, it can no longer be unseen. So while you may see the vase first and then the profiles, you cannot “unsee” the vase.

Old woman or young woman?

How this works against an employee when it comes to longevity in a certain company, and more specifically in a certain position, is people sometimes have difficulty seeing someone as capable of doing something beyond their current position.

Take Ryan’s example, Ryan has been in a non-management role for an extended period of time and as such, the leaders around her (the hiring managers in particular), and unable to see her as a manager. In fact, she may even be told she is not qualified because she does not have management experience, which she will NEVER get in her current non-managerial role.

It is a Catch-22. You aren’t qualified to manage people until you manage people. And if she is not given the position for that reason, what leads her to believe she will ever attain her career goals at her current company. They are in fact sending a message that quitting is the only way for her to further her career.

Seemingly, some organizational leaders are more appreciative of the unknown potential with an external candidate, than with the known capabilities and internal knowledge of an internal candidate.  That is the leadership failure, failure to see your own employees’ potential.

The Cultural Issue

This one is more a fault of systems being designed independent of one another but it becomes a blind spot for many organizations. They pay internal candidates less than external hires. And while the basis of this might be rooted in good financial theory, the human message it sends is, internal experience is worth less than external experience.

The underlying principles at work on this one is from a financial standpoint this practice makes good fiscal sense. An internal will generally accept less for a promotion than an external might demand. But beyond the messages it sends to an internal here is something to consider. The reason an internal would take less is because there is less stress of learning a new organization. It is easier to stay with a company I know for less money, than have to re-establish myself and learn a new role at the same time. The inverse of that is where irony sits. For the external hire, they fully anticipate the stress of learning a new organization and establishing themselves. So in essence, you are paying MORE for someone to learn your organization before they can even bring benefit. You are paying MORE for an external hire’s learning curve before productivity kicks in.

There is also the concept of internal equity that many HR professionals cite saying they do not want to create an expectation of a high raise percentage for internals as they move up. But this tends to be a fallacious argument. It may make sense when it comes to performance or cost of living raises, but it should not apply when the nature of someone’s job changes in accordance to a promotion. The role is worth a certain range and adjusting it simply because someone is an internal candidate is creating a negative culture for internal promotions.

Ultimately, here is the message and culture this practice of basing salary on the internal status and current salary creates: quit and work somewhere else, then come back and we will not only be more eager to hire you, we will pay you more than if you had just been promoted. It encourages the exact thing you are working to prevent. And what is more, you have now taken a sincerely engaged employee and turned them into a cynical job-hopper.

Straighten Things Out

Much of what I encounter in organizational roadblocks to performance are a result of misalignment. Everyone to detours around the roadblock to continue moving forward. In this case, the roadblock is a misaligned compensation philosophy and leadership perception. The detour is exiting people out of your organization only to pay them more to come back.

A major argument I hear from many senior executives is “if we develop people into leaders, they just take that experience to another company.” To which I respond, if that happens more than 50% of the time then you are either not looking at your people with fresh eyes when it comes to potential promotions or your compensation philosophy tells them they would be worth more if they quit.

When leaders start bemoaning the talent shortage and worrying about leadership gaps (such as in this article from Inc.com) it is usually a good idea to start looking at your efforts. If you are not developing your talent, start. But make sure you look the environment you plan to grow them in. You might create great seedling leaders but if you don’t replant them when they need more room or water them as much they deserve…you could find your leadership crop dying off.

Change Communication


I’ve worked with a number of companies regarding change and one thing still boggles my mind – a fundamental misunderstanding of change adoption and how the change team’s progress relates to the general population of the organization.  And more specifically, how delaying communication until you have all the data effects change adoption.

While there are a number of things that can influence the length of time for adoption (complexity, scope, pervasiveness, size of audience, etc.) on thing that has a direct correlation to the speed of adoption is communication. The sooner you let people know change is coming, the faster you can expect adoption. You can also get feedback to address any issues you may not have considered before they become difficult to implement. If you wait too long, resistance seems to become monumental and adjusting anything based on feedback feels like a slap in the face for all the time you feel you have spent considering all options. But there is one perspective you never gave a voice until you were almost ready to roll out the change – theirs.

The Root Problem of the Typical Approach

On a two axis graph (we love those, don’t we?) with time being the horizontal and change progress being the vertical, the change team and change leader start near point zero on both.  As time increases the change team is formulating what the change will look like, how to configure it, shape it, what training is needed (sometimes), who is, etc.  So the line begins to rise as time increases.  We get to initial system testing, or final review and the change line is still climbing.  Then we roll it out.  The change progress for the team is high, but all of the people who just learned about this are staring at zero in terms of change progress. They have had not chance to understand the motivation, reason, impact, disruption, confusion, or anxiety this is going to cause.

What sometimes makes this even more anxiety producing is, even when the communication does begin, the volume is way to low and horribly infrequent. Some companies I have worked with send out a pamphlet with people’s check stubs and that was as far as it went.  Despite all the other issues with that form of communication, the fact that this was the ONLY time and method they communicated a major organizational change left most people struggling to fill in any gaps.  In fact, six months later, some people were still unaware that a change had taken place.

The Psychology of Change

For most change processes, the act of change is linear – you start here and move some levers, change some forms, maybe do some training, and then flip the switch and you are at the end of the change project.  For people, change is never linear. The below graphic depicts the standard understanding of the change curve for most people.

How quickly someone navigates through this curve depends on a number of things: the pervasiveness of the change, how impacted the person is, how long the previous system/process/dynamic was in place, perceived benefit to the new way, etc. But a big piece that is not addressed in the illustration above is the cause for the dip. The cause for denial, resistance, and hesitancy, is fear. We fear change, not a new concept I know but something you can’t just expect people to get over quickly. And when you delay your communication and are expecting them to adopt the change quickly (in comparison to how long the change team has had to absorb it,) under-communication is your enemy.

Here is how under-communication leads to increased resistance. The human brain wants the world to make sense and it will fill whatever void it has to for the world to make sense. (See Gestalt Psychology) Typically, because factual data is not playing a part in filling gaps (hence the gap), our brains do not run to what is most logical – it runs to what is self-preserving (ala Triune Brain Theory). Example: you are hiking down a trail and see a hole in ground that you cannot see into – do you stick your hand in there? Before I get to why not, does the hole have a bottom? Of course it does, because a bottomless hole does not make sense. So what do you fill it with? A $20 bill? Winning lottery ticket? Or is it something more sinister – a snake, spider, scorpion, varmint – all waiting to bite you?  In reality the most likely scenario, is the hole is empty. But our brains don’t go there.  We fill it with something negative that we need to protect ourselves against. The same things happens when there is a ‘hole’ in the communication or understanding of a change. And rather than wait for more information, people fill the gap. That is commonly called “gossip”. We want to fill that gap, we need to fill the gap, and we will usually fill it with something negative.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

The longer gossip festers, the harder it will be to correct it.  What is worse, is negative gossip can feed cynicism which then begins to feed negative gossip – and so the negative culture spiral ensues.  Now communication seems to breed its own resistance, anger, dismissal, and hesitation. This commonly occurs when organizations begin communicating after the negative gossip has started. And it causes most change managers to avoid communicating because it seemingly does no good – and in some instances – can derail the change process by giving a formal channel for high-influence individuals to voice their cynicism.  So if you start too late, yes, sometimes you might be better off just dropping the change in on people, but don’t expect people to like it, gravitate towards it, or accept it quickly. In fact, the best you can expect is mild compliance at that point – people who only do it because there is no other option (that is, IF you take the old method away.)

Start Your Own Gossip

Viral and teaser marketing tactics have been all the rave these days, and for good reason, they get people talking…even if sometimes all they are talking about is the ad and have no real knowledge of the product. Generating buzz about your change is a great way to begin communication. Primarily because it allows you three things right off the bat: no need for all the answers, feedback on possible early resistance, and early buzz. Now, obviously if the change IS negative in its impact (layoffs, pay cuts, etc.) you might want to formalize the message and opt for transparency, but for other changes such as a new technology, new procedure, change in product offering, etc. “viral” marketing can get you a lot of early traction and information. Imagine if Apple put out an ad that said, “get ready to change the world again..” And nothing more, maybe some elusive photos that don’t really show anything.  Trust me, people would be talking.

Doing It Right

Be Early: Even if you are vague.  If you want adoption, start before the gossip gets out of your hands.  Better to have curiosity chatter than negative chatter

Be Everywhere: Information rarely travels through a single medium.  Even if your formal communication channels are usually via one medium, trust me, people get their information elsewhere.  Email, website, intranet, twitter, Facebook, blogs, closed radio circuits piping Musak to your company restrooms, hold music, newsletters, bulletin boards, etc.  For viral messages, I would actually avoid all company meetings. To generate buzz, keep it unidirectional at first.  Coordinate your message releases so they are consistent but make sure you are not relying on one channel.

Be Frequent: Set a schedule and pace yourself to ramp up close to formal announcements.

Be Receptive: Once you plan your formal announcement, provide room for Q&A.  Communication by its very definition is not one-direction so simply telling people something is not communicating…it is informing. Informing has its place in change but do not confuse it with communication.  If you want to communicate change, you need to listen when people talk.  Resistance is simply data. And like all data, it is worthy of analysis. Some data is great, some is not so great, but ignoring it just forces people to fill in the gaps.

Be Transparent-ish: Don’t lie, and don’t hide things that everyone will learn anyway.  If there is a reason you’ve decided to go one direction v another, being honest, even when people don’t always like it, is better than destroying any trust people have in you or your organization.  Once the trust is gone, they don’t even listen anymore since they assume you are lying or manipulating information.  That does not mean always telling them everything, but obscuring the truth is not going to help people trust this change is the best thing for them.

Be Frequent: Doing one information blast is not going to help you get adoption. And don’t assume communication should stop after you have rolled out the change, if anything you should communicate more.

Be A Safety Net: You and your change team are the experts on whatever the change is.  If you want people to catch up to you, don’t assume training and education will happen instantly. Coach people, stay with them, and help them be successful. Telling someone to figure it out on their own usually results in heavy resistance and a gravitation back to what is comfortable. If you want them to make the leap to something new, you have to position yourself to make it okay and to catch them when (yes, when, not if) they fall.

Be Firm: There is a difference between helping smooth the transition for people and allowing the population to drive the change.  At a certain point, someone needs to be firm. Get input and modify implementation – yes.  Deviate from your vision and intended outcomes – no.

Conclusion

Change is hard, not only to implement but to adjust to. People feel uncomfortable in silence. If you are unsure about that, start your next meeting with 45 seconds of silence…and see how long it takes for people to start whispering under their breaths to their coworkers. People fill silence to make themselves feel more comfortable.  This is the essential importance of communication during change – if you aren’t having the conversations, they will.