Leading change at your organization can be a daunting proposition while you face mounting pressure for growth. As a senior leader, what should be an exciting time for your organization becomes a challenge, leading to a fear of change and the belief that change is hard. Pam Marmon shares a refreshing and radical truth: With the proper process, change is not hard. In No One's Listening and It's Your Fault, progressive change leader and entrepreneur Pam Marmon unpacks the practical framework of implementing change to help you get your message heard during organizational transformations. As the change catalyst, you'll learn how to tap into the essence of your organization's culture to determine what will resonate with your team in a language they understand. Inspire others to take action by creating alignment at every level and empower influencers to carry your message. You can confidently build change agility with long-lasting impact to advance innovation, implement digital transformation, and achieve exponential growth.
1. No One Is Listening and It's Your Fault
We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
"It's your fault they don't know," I said. My words sat there. Silence filled the room as I waited for John to push back. After all, he was my mentor, and I had more to learn from him than vice versa. I knew his stakes were high and my response stunned him. It stunned me.
It was supposed to be a regular check-in at our usual place during our usual time. John was a senior leader with a distinguished record in serving our country and leading teams. He came from a military background and had accomplished much in his career. After exchanging greetings and commenting on our days, I asked John how his work was progressing. While I didn't know the specifics, I knew it was important work in a government contract company, which was impacting people in other parts of the organization, not to mention the tangible impact on our nation.
In attempting to communicate, John's team had sent email updates to their internal customers but received no response to the requests for action. To John's frustration, people were not reading the messages. Worse, they were disoriented about expectations and progress. John was about to miss a deadline and at his wit's end, just wishing people would read what he sent them and do their part.
Taking ownership of someone else's inactions is hard. It was difficult for John to see the role he played in this failure. The words rolled out of my mouth before I could catch them and tuck them away. It's your fault they don't know. People were not listening and it was John's fault.
The fact is that more than 70 percent of change efforts fail, according to research conducted by Prosci. It happens so often that those of us in the change management discipline are aware of the potential loss a company is facing and work meticulously to address communication pitfalls and the underlying causes that derail projects and companies. In my experience, email in particular is the most ineffective way to communicate; yet, for many of us, it's our default communication channel.
If you lead an organization and people tell you they don't know what's going on, it is your fault.
Let me explain. As a leader, you have access to information that may never trickle down to your employees. It's likely that you see the big picture and can make sense of where the organization is headed. The majority of your people, on the other hand, are blind to the path toward the end goal. Your position grants you the privilege to see the future, and in return, it demands your ability to inform others of what's ahead.
Effective leaders understand that by communicating important information multiple times, people can grasp how that information will impact them. To ensure that the messages reach the desired final destination, you have to deploy multiple communication channels throughout your organization.
There are a plethora of challenges a company can face when implementing change. For a growing number of organizations, remote work has led to infrequent physical paths crossing. Maybe you feel the pressure of lofty objectives and it's hard to keep projects moving forward? Or you need to expand your team to accomplish the work? If not addressed, it's likely these challenges will create a disconnect within your team and birth a considerable discomfort for decision-making that delays your work.
If your vision is to transform your organization, your team, or even yourself, it's likely you, like John, have experienced frustration and questioned others who were incapable of keeping up. You may have committed to deadlines just to find yourself stretching them out in hopes that more time will get your team on board. Perhaps your organization is change saturated. Or the opposite-perhaps it rarely undergoes significant change and people don't know how to behave during a transformation. Maybe your people are fatigued, exhausted, or on the brink of quitting? Maybe you need to hire new team members, or reframe the vision of the organization?
The reality is that your career success depends on your ability to lead change, and if you fail to master that skill, it will jeopardize your future.
There are no simple solutions to resolve these challenges. A healthy, high-functioning organization operates effectively across its departments and understands how a shift in strategy will impact everyone. It is a rare company that is able to exceptionally master its operations, especially as an organization matures and grows. The complexity of work can cloud our ability to synchronize our communications.
People are not listening, and unless you captivate their minds and their hearts, you will miss the opportunity to engage them in meaningful ways.
Why People May Not Be Listening
Change is a process. When we manage it, we enable employees to adapt faster by aligning stakeholders through shared vision, value proposition, impact, and expectations. The benefits to the business include faster speed to market, increased efficiency, stronger brand, and more empowered employees. To pass the test for effective transformation, consider these must-haves:
- There must be a compelling reason for both employees and the organization to change.
- There must be urgency.
- There must be a strong leader to sponsor the change.
- There must be a clear vision.
- There must be a plan to execute the change.
- There must be a network of influencers championing the work.
- There must be clear communications with the "What's in it for me?"
Balance is essential so that your message does not overpower your people, or underwhelm them to the point of disinterest. The interwoven ecosystem that leads to success is inclusive of your organization's culture, talent, capabilities, agility, industry, global economy, and collective leadership skills.
But What If Your Messages Are Relevant and Still No One Is Listening?
Have you heard the Bible story of the parable of the sower? This parable describes a hardworking farmer who sows seeds in the land. Some seeds fall on fertile soil, while others fall in thorny land on the side of the road. Like the sower, you may have diligently been communicating relevant messages through multiple channels, and yet struggle to get engagement. Your answer may be tangled in a combination of thorny reasons.
It's Not the Right Message
You may be communicating a complicated message that is disconnected from the overall messages that flow throughout the organization. Your message may be too vague or too detailed. People are confused by what you ask of them, and they ignore the message-or worse, they ignore you.
It's Not the Right Timing
This culprit has many victims. Timing can be broken into two categories: timing of messages and organizational timing.
Timing of Messages
In his book When, Daniel Pink addresses the importance of the timing of daily activities. His research points out that there is an enormous impact on the desired outcomes based on when you perform certain tasks. Pink categorizes the day in three cycles: peak periods are best for analytical and focused work; trough periods are best for administrative work; and recovery periods are best for creative work. Be intentional about the timing of your messages so that your end receivers are in their prime state to hear them. I advise all my clients to avoid sending important organizational messages at the end of the week on Friday or near holiday periods. It is likely those messages would not be heard appropriately or embraced as intended.
If there are more significant changes taking place in your organization, your message will likely get lost. The sequence of large transformational messages within your organization is important to your end receivers. If there are messages about layoffs, your project messages will likely be secondary, at best, to the critical information circulating within your organization. Be aware and mindful of your organization's ecosystem so you can space important messages accordingly.
You Are Not the Right Sender
Now this feels personal. Sometimes it is, but not always. According to the extensive research done by Prosci, employees expect to hear organizational vision messages from the executive leaders, while they expect messages about changes to their day-to-day work to come from their direct manager. This may be a question of adequate position and authority, or a question of trust and respect. Regardless, who sends the message is as important as the message itself.
Your Organizational Culture Is Dysfunctional
You may have heard the expression, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." This one may or may not be entirely in your control. People in your organization may have lost trust in the executive leaders and, as a result, disengaged from the work. Sick organizations have many symptoms of brokenness. Inefficient communication is just one among a slew of possible areas that need urgent attention.
Your Message Is Not Aligned
The story you are telling doesn't make sense in the context of the organizational environment. It's fragmented,...