A few months ago I was asked to support two very different organisations going through change. They both sell very different services in very different marketplaces, have different processes, structures and approaches to their business and very different histories. Their only similarity is that both restructured to respond to changing market demands.
The other difference is the way that they went about the change. One organisation (call them A) asked me to help them plan and prepare their launch. As part of the process they agreed to my suggestion that we work through the way they answered questions. I asked them to give me all of the questions that they thought they might be asked, to which I added the challenging questions that tend to get asked when change has a major human impact. As part of our ‘Launch readiness’ discussions I put some of these questions to them as if I was an employee. They all listened to each others answers, offered suggestions and alternatives and had a good, if personally challenging session. Whilst they handled them pretty well they acknowledged that there were some things that needed to be worked on prior to launch. These were not unusual so I will share them here:
They noticed that different leaders answered the same question very differently. A bell curve of distribution would have been very flat indeed. They quickly realised that this range of difference would give them issues in the longer term because they knew that people would talk and compare answers. If every answer was different then the organisation would be confused about the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of the change. With that confusion would come rising tension.
Another aspect that they noted was a tendency to elaborate on their answer by adding more and more information. This is often a function of under-preparedness I.e the answer is actually being made up from the vast amount of data that the answerer has in their head. As they rapidly search the data they tend to go ‘here’s another piece of useful info’ and throw that into the mix. The problem is that they haven’t had time to sort through the data and ensure that the extra pieces really help. Instead the listener gets a scatter-gun of info and that leads to confusion again. Of course the next time the question is answered the answer is tuned a little bit more and then again the time after. This of course leads back to point 1.
Committing a no-no.
The third aspect was making sure that you don’t say something that gets you into trouble. When leaders have spent a long time thinking about the proposed changes they are mentally way ahead and virtually living in the future. They may be excited about the possibilities, and they are certainly vested in the proposal. But if your laws require to consult, then you have to consult. That means a shift in language from ‘will’ to ‘possible’. Some of them didn’t like the shift, but its either that or a legal employment issue. Secondly if your changes mean people have to go, you need to empathize with that and understand what your staff will be feeling. Too much excitement about the change is just not right at the announcement stage when jobs are going. The managers realised that they needed to manage their voice tone and manage their answers.
Organisation A quickly added these up for themselves and realised they needed a bit more preparation. They pounced on the Q&A’s I’d prepared, worked them through and rehearsed a little bit more. They were never aiming to have the consistency of robots, but they were determined to be prepared and to do their best.
When the launch period came, they were composed, empathetic, really clear on their proposals and sounding like they were singing from the same sheet. Many of the questions they prepared for were never asked as they ‘weaved’ them into their presentations. Many were never asked because the consistent messages given calmed everyone down and created confidence that things would happen as promised. In the post launch review, some asked if we really needed that many Q&A’s but others stated that the prep was what allowed them to reduce the uncertainty and confusion.
And what about organisation B?
The reason I was called in was because three months after they launched, stress levels were high, confidence was low, uncertainty remained and confusion reigned.
Did they prepare their managers? Did they achieve Consistency, No-no’s and over-answering?
What do you think?