Successful Selling: The role of communications in effective change - Jan 2021

By Sandy Smith

Since the first quarter of last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic first insinuated itself into our lives, change has been upon us in dramatic new ways. For many businesses, walk-in customers fell away to almost nonexistent, while online commerce mushroomed for some. New businesses that accommodated the needs of people who were isolated or quarantined came into being. And many businesses, including some of our favorite restaurants and gathering spots, have closed-some permanently.

Change is nothing new to modern business. You always have to find new ways to keep up with the competition, incorporate new technology and reach out to your customers and potential new customers in ways that result in new business. A CEO client of mine has often said to me when we were discussing change, “If you are through changing, you are through.” Never before has that sentiment rung more true.

Some organizations have been able to determine how their customers were going to be affected by the pandemic and how to change their business model to accommodate them and to effectively communicate these new opportunities to their customer bases.

For nearly 25 years, I have had the opportunity to consult with many organizations around the county, often about the need for change and how to manage it successfully. These organizations were in healthcare, financial services, manufacturing and the federal government. And these leaders were savvy, street-smart executives who were keenly aware that change is something employees and customers may resist if not communicated effectively. I found a quote by Bob Aronson, a communications consultant, that said succinctly, “If communication is not your top priority, all of your other priorities are at risk.”

Recently, I began thinking of some of those organizations I worked with over the years whose leaders were masters in communication and change management. After a bit of study, I found that the tenets about communication that resulted from those days were still valid for today’s challenges.

Lead from the top: Senior leaders must demonstrate their commitment to a change and hold themselves and each other accountable. It is important for all levels of the organization to be committed and confident that the change will improve business one way or another.

Communicate the purpose: What specific problems will making the change solve or improve upon? Clarify how the change will improve the business, such as enhancing the customers’ ability to find the service or product they want or providing employees and customers a safer environment in which to conduct business. Will it help keep workers’ hours up and the bottom line more stable? It is also important to identify any challenges the change might have on employees, such as establishing an effective work-at-home space, learning new skills or working different or longer hours. Be honest.

Show the big picture: Take a step back to describe what business issues led to the need for the change and how the change will improve the situation.

Get input and feedback: Employees at different levels of the organization have different perspectives about a proposed change and how it will affect them, customers and the company as a whole. It will be important to consider all such information before announcing the change to the world. On the other hand, it is vital that this review phase does not bring the proposal to a screeching halt. Time is likely of the essence.

Communicate the change process: Provide employees and customers a roadmap of the phases, stages, dates and time of events. Clarify roles and responsibilities. Who will be responsible for what? Specifically, what will not change?

Measure progress: You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Leaders must be willing to admit mistakes, make adjustments and move forward. Also, celebrate successes no matter how minor. Based on these gains and setbacks, consider further enhancements to keep improving.

Set information free: Unless there are clear reasons for keeping information confidential, share it openly.

It is helpful if employees come to see change for what it should be: making adjustments to the continually evolving world around you to enhance your success. It’s never really over. In fact, after the pandemic, you may well have to move back toward the old successful business you had before the pandemic began.

Some time back, I was about to board a plane in Atlanta when a gentleman approached me and said he knew me. He said his company had hired me a couple of years earlier to facilitate a leadership meeting.

I asked him, “So how are things going with your company?”

He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, and said, “Hell, we’ve still got problems.”

After I took my seat on the plane, I pondered whether the man expected that after a day-and-a-half leadership retreat his company would be problem-free.

I recalled author John Bradshaw’s definition of growth: “Growth is a process of trading one set of problems for a better set of problems.”

Copyright 2021 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc.