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Communicating change directly

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Why leaders should be fans of “straight talk”

Whether you’re instituting a new mission or method, a reorganization, a merging of functions, or pursuing a new business opportunity…all successful change begins with effective communication. Those most affected by the coming changes shouldn’t see them as mysterious or unreasonable.

Unfortunately, trendy words have a way of sneaking into our everyday language.  We don’t finish things we “finalize” them.  We “take a position” instead of having an opinion.  We’re told to be “transparent” with our staff as if the alternative is justifiable.  It’s not.  Merely using the word “transparent” implies that honesty isn’t your default setting.

The most admired leaders never make their staff read between the lines.  They encourage straight talk and invite honest dialog by using clear, direct language.  Most importantly, they always work to improve their communications.  After all, leaders are responsible for making sure business transformation is understood during every phase of a project.  Not just at the start.

From time to time, evaluate how effectively you’re communicating.  Have you used personal conversations and group meetings as an opportunity to foster two-way communication with your staff? Have you spelled out your objectives for the months ahead?  Have you been candid about business problems and explained why change is necessary?

The people you are leading can handle the truth.  Their ability to adapt to change correlates directly to how effectively you communicate your vision during the process.  Give them all the information they need to understand the motivation for change and the steps being taken to achieve it.

Tell them as much as you can as soon as you can.  Whenever possible, let your people know about things in advance.  Good news can sometimes wait, but you should share bad news right away.  When you fail to provide information, people start guessing, comparing notes, and telling stories that can negatively affect productivity.
What people imagine is always worse than the truth.

Explain the details surrounding changes, who will be most affected by changes, and why it’s a priority.  Don’t assume people can connect the dots from press releases, earnings reports, or past actions.  They may not reach the same conclusion.  There is no substitute for direct communication.  Be considerate of your audience – they are both thinking and feeling.  Use your words to acknowledge any fears and uneasiness they might experience.

The bottom line?  Change is successful when leaders engage in clear, direct communication from the start.  It’s called straight talk for a reason.  It’s the fastest, most predictable way to take your organization from where it is to where you want it to be.

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