Leading and Communicating Organizations through Big Change: Part 1

by Bob Domenz

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Leaders of organizations of every size deal with change daily, and most are adept at managing and communicating through it. The trouble starts when leaders try to apply those same strategies used with routine change to Big Change.
Big Change is often triggered by a disruptive event, such as new leadership, a new product or services launch, new market entry or total rebranding. It is transformational and driven by new vision and direction, and it comes with heightened expectations of performance and growth.

For leaders, these are often once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that will make or break them, their organizations and their brands. But for the employees, those same opportunities are often overshadowed by fear and anxiety triggered by the possibility of re-organization, downsizing, job losses or new directions for company strategy, culture and policies.

This is precisely the situation where it is imperative for leaders to have a strong communication strategy and flawless execution. Getting all employees across all functions of the business to understand and take aligned action on a Big Change strategy is an enormous undertaking.

Big Change sets into motion a set of actions that behave much like a starburst. Channeled properly, this burst of energy can propel the organization forward quickly — motivating and aligning the organization, strengthening the brand, sparking innovation, accelerating growth and creating new business opportunities.

But when that burst is not properly directed, it can become a straight pathway to Organizational Swirl, or simultaneous inefficient, counterproductive efforts from individuals and groups due to confusion, information gaps, misalignment and unclear priorities.

The Typical Path to Organizational Swirl: Six Steps

Step 1: Leadership spends months in preparation and planning, then are quick to communicate the strategy to their organization with the assumption that employees will embrace the plan and enthusiastically take action. They expect progress against goals will be swift, but this is rarely the outcome.

Step 2: Employees react with mixtures of confusion, skepticism, worry, resentment and indifference. Many don’t, won’t or can’t take action, in part because they are unclear on what action is being requested.

Step 3: Beset with stalled progress, costly missteps and lost opportunities, frustration arises at every level. The fingers begin to point between leadership and employees.

Step 4: Frustrated, leadership reacts with additional waves of communication in the belief that more is the solution to the problem. 

Step 5. The cycle painfully repeats itself.

Step 6. The business swirls and misses its goals.

It’s not that leaders don’t make communications plans in preparation for and response to Big Change. They do. It’s just that they don’t always fully appreciate the magnitude of what is about to happen to them, their organization and brand and the resulting communication needs. In the end, they unintentionally commit the common mistakes and oversights that lead to undesired outcomes.

In our next post, we will identify the four root causes of why Big Change goes bad and the benefits of an integrated Big Change strategy.


bobdomenzBob Domenz is founder and CEO of Avenue, a Chicago-based marketing strategy and activation firm that partners with B2B leaders to transform their businesses and brands, and launch new products. He can be reached at bdomenz@avenue-inc.com