Leaders make change and must constantly develop the skills of change leadership to help them set vision, inspire others to believe in the vision, and maintain alignment with the vision.
Communication is one of the most essential skills in the change leadership skillset. This is not just telling people about the change. Making the Case for Change is the secret to effective change leader communication. This means explaining why the current state is unsustainable, what the better future state looks like, acknowledging that it won’t be easy, expressing confidence in the ability to successfully accomplish the change and providing clarity on how people will be impacted (the WIIFM or “What’s In It For Me”.)
We advise leaders to use a thoughtful and consistent structure as they tell the story of change. This ensures that there are no missing pieces. Just as a traditional story has specific elements needed to share it effectively (setting, plot, character, conflict, and theme), the Case for Change has specific elements that are required to tell a change story.
SETTING THE STAGE
Context – Give specifics of the challenges and issues that are creating the need to make a change. Is this driven internally, or externally as a response to the market? Be clear about the most important reasons for making the change. It’s essential to provide a common baseline of awareness and understanding for the listeners.
PART I – THE CHANGE
WHY – explain why the status quo is not sustainable. Why can’t you continue doing what you’ve always done? Explain the consequences of not making the change. It’s important that this isn’t overdone to create fear. Fear leads to uncertainty and massive brain threat in the listener. We’ve heard leaders who believe that they need to explain “the burning platform” in order to shock their people into a state of change awareness and create urgency to make the change. Instead of inspiring hyperawareness and motivation, fear stunts creativity, slows problem-solving and reduces productivity.
WHAT – This isn’t the action that you are taking – change is the difference between the way things are today and how you intend for them to be in the future. Describe what will and will not be changing. Is this a people change, a process change, or a system change? Are there things that are out of scope for the change? Usually when change is announced, you don’t have all the details. That’s ok, but tell people what you do and don’t know and create as much certainty as you can.
WIIFM – this is the first question that every person asks: What is in it for me? How am I impacted? What does this mean to my job, my future, my life? At some point in the Case for Change, it’s essential to help the listener understand how he or she will be directly affected.
Leadership is the magic ingredient for successful change. The best processes, methods and tools cannot overcome a lack of great leadership, and that starts with effectively communicating by creating a Case for Change. We’ll outline the other elements of a Case for Change over the next few weeks.