Reinforcing Change Management with Effective Communication

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Businesses must constantly evolve and adapt to meet a variety of challenges — from changes in technology, to the rise of new competitors, to a shift in economic trends. As a result, effectively navigating change is a vital part of business management – and sales enablement is well-equipped to lead these efforts. But to successfully initiate change management, leaders must hone an essential skill: communicating change.

Under-communicating the vision is one of the top errors leading to the failure of change initiatives. Change is often met with strong resistance, which can put your investment at risk. Establishing awareness of the need for change through consistent communication is essential to avoid confusion and motivate action.

“The biggest change is to get people’s mindsets around supporting the vision and implementing the changes and then sticking to the new way of doing things,” said Helen Cummins, sales enablement leader. “Change is really hard. If people can’t share the same vision, then you’re not going to be able to successfully execute in the new direction.”

To enforce the change vision and drive the right behaviors, focus on four core pillars of successful communication: what, why, when, and how.

What: Establishing the Purpose Behind the Vision

Communicating the vision for change is the single most important step that many leaders fail to complete in the change management process. People are better suited to navigate change when organizations are transparent with the end goal and what expectations are for the outcomes of the change. As a result, most successful change efforts occur when leadership develops a picture of the future that is relatively easy to communicate and empowers employees across the organization.

To ensure these expectations are clear, seek to outline a concise overview that can be easily explained and understood by the audience in under five minutes. Communicating what reps would like to know about major change is a key driver for success. Put yourself in the reps’ shoes and create focused, unified answers to the following questions:

  • What is the problem? What requires change?
  • Who says so, and why?
  • How does this change align with our vision and strategy?
  • What would happen if no one acted to solve the problem?

Establishing clarity for the organization’s vision can ensure employees see the need for and the logic of company-wide change, and that they make accurate connections between change and revenue performance. It is crucial to garner a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, as change programs require the enthusiastic cooperation of reps. By customizing the delivery for maximum persuasive power, practitioners can gain allies and unite teams.

“For people to succeed in such unfamiliar territory, they need to clearly understand the vision and plans that are being rolled out and why it matters, because they’re fearful,” said Helen Cummins, sales enablement leader. “The enablement team can play a role in communicating and reinforcing, clearly and simply, the core messages and new practices.”

In addition, practitioners must use a striking tone and style to communicate change. According to John Kotter, author of “Leading Change”, employees won’t make sacrifices, even if they are unhappy with the status quo, unless they truly believe in the possibility of useful change. Reiterating the vision by using compelling content to communicate change initiatives can help enablement spark salespeople’s imagination, while setting an urgent yet positive tone. With credible communication, motivation is increased and confusion is minimized.

Why: Communicating the Value of Change for Reps

Communicating change is a conscious attempt to inform people how the new approaches, behaviors, and attitudes will help improve performance. To effectively communicate the value of the change initiative, it is important to first have a deep understanding of how the change will affect the reps. Being able to anticipate what challenges and benefits they might experience will help sales enablement practitioners better position the “why”.

When communicating change, it is crucial for practitioners to answer the following to convey personal impact, establish a great sense of urgency, and drive productive and focused conversations centered on their area of interest or conflict:

  • How does this impact individual reps?
  • How does this impact teams?
  • How will the initiatives influence their day-to-day responsibilities?

People often resist change due to a perception that there are more costs than benefits — especially on a personal level. In fact, the top five reasons for resistance to change according to Jeffrey Hiatt and Timothy Creasy’s “Change Management: The People Side of Change” are:

  • Lack of awareness of the need for change
  • Impact on current job role
  • Organization’s past performance with change
  • Lack of visible support from managers
  • Job loss

Such situations often occur when trust is lacking between those initiating the change and the reps who will be influenced by it most. By highlighting the personal benefits reps can expect with careful thought, sales enablement can create a foundation of trust and engage reps in ensuring their own success, allowing for a more authentic change in behavior.

“For people to succeed in such unfamiliar territory, they need to clearly understand the vision and plans that are being rolled out and why it matters, because they’re fearful,” said Cummins. “People are restless. They need reassurance.”

When: Communicating Proactively and Reactively

Change is impossible without extensive support for the vision across the entire organization.
The best approach to increasing widespread awareness and acceptance of the vision is to reiterate why the change is needed often, both proactively and reactively.

Proactive Communication

Not many people will understand the change approach when a transformation vision is only communicated during a single meeting or in a few speeches. This is not shocking, as the vision would only capture a meager amount of the yearly intra-company communication.

In more successful change efforts, practitioners proactively remind reps of the purpose of change by incorporating messages into their day-to-day activities. Successful sales enablement leaders also use all existing communication channels to intuitively broadcast the vision, such as embedding the message into internal newsletters, showcasing success stories during team meetings, and more.

“Find ways to communicate this information broadly and dramatically, especially with respect to crises, potential crises, or great opportunities that are very timely,” said Kotter.

To do this successfully, Kotter offers seven principles to communicate the vision proactively:

  • Simplicity: Eliminate jargon and technobabble to minimize the confusion and stress of switching to a new solution
  • Metaphor: Paint a picture of what the impact of change will be on an individual and organizational level
  • Multiple forums: Utilize various communication channels, from newsletters and speeches to one-on-one discussions and group presentations.
  • Repetition: Describe and echo the commitment to the vision by incorporating messages into daily activities
  • Lead by example: Leaders’ behavior must be transparent and consistent with the overall vision; they must consciously attempt to be a living symbol of the new change
  • Explanation of inconsistencies: Address any inconsistencies that arise before they undermine the credibility of the change effort as a whole.
  • Give-and-take: Two-way communication powerfully provides avenues to vent frustrations and applaud what is working. Encourage honest feedback from employees to address concerns, and to seamlessly adjust what doesn’t work

Reactive Communication

A common misstep in the communication process is that practitioners underestimate the variety of reactions to change.

To positively influence any objections and overcome resistance to change, practitioners should pay close attention to staunch oppositionists and earn their trust with transparent communication. This process might include seeking out these individuals, listening and providing emotional support, working through their doubts with them openly and honestly, or offering incentives to active or potential resisters. Facilitation and support are most helpful when fear and anxiety lie at the heart of change resistance.

“Find out who [the loyal oppositionists] are,” said Kiersten Kaye, world sales enablement leader at Dassault Systèmes. They’re the people who are already complaining loudly about the change. Invite them in. Listen to them. Give them space.”

This is also a crucial time to closely involve executive sponsors and other trusted change agents to help sell the vision internally and safeguard your investment.

“It’s key to be prepared and to have partners that share that vision at the onset and frankly, who will collectively help achieve results when the organization hits roadblocks,” says Cummins. “To say the cliché, partner early and partner often.”

How: Communicating the Behaviors Needed for Change

Finally, training and coaching are critical components of the communication process to reinforce how the change will influence rep behaviors. Without clear behavioral expectations communicated in an environment where reps have an opportunity to practice and receive feedback, they ultimately will not know how to execute the transformation in detail.

To effectively communicate the vision for change in terms of the knowledge and skills reps need to be successful, craft robust learning plans for reps and track their progress throughout the change process. In building a learning plan that communicates and reinforces change, consider the following steps:

  • Outline the steps and schedule in which people will receive information, training, support, and resources needed to make the transition.
  • Plan the nature and timing of key events that will mark the phases of change.
  • Define KPIs and milestones that can be used to motivate reps with compelling evidence that the journey is producing expected results.

Furthermore, practitioners can better enable a successful implementation and elevate a more positive rep experience by actively looking for ways to incorporate the change vision in regular coaching conversations. To support managers and coaches in doing so, sales enablement can provide them with the following as it relates to the change initiative:

  • Clear and measurable performance criteria based on relevant metrics
  • Specific timelines for execution of the initiative, including key deadlines along the way
  • Competency requirements or expectations

Coaching with the goal of creating short-term wins also helps with change acceptance, as it demonstrates the value of supporting the vision. Additionally, training and coaching can also provide valuable two-way communication as it provides a forum for more regular discussions with reps on how the change is impacting them and where they might need additional support.

Now more than ever, organizations need to be more flexible, agile, and responsive to the fast-paced and evolving landscape of business to stay competitive. However, designing, delivering, and managing change is an incredibly challenging process. To successfully engage with change, enablement must minimize any uncertainty or alleviate any concerns by helping people understand the why behind the initiative and how they will be impacted by the change.

“Any time there’s change management, people need to know what’s happening, why is it happening, what does that mean to me, how am I impacted by it, and then what do I need to do with it,” said Cori Hartje, principal consultant at Holhart LLC. “Over-communicating is really the key to how you are going to manage change. As human beings, we need to know what it is, why is it happening, how does it impact me, and what I need to do with it.”

Developing plans to successfully communicate the what, why, when, and how of change is key to smoothing transition periods and helping change persevere.

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