Leadership and communication are both part of a successful change management strategy. Supportive Leadership and inclusive communication during change/transition are individually very difficult tasks and the combination can be daunting. The challenge is two-way and requires a merging in the styles of leaders and their employees. This is especially true during a time of transition that will impact roughly two million federal employees.
While new leaders may come into the federal government with renewed energy, many employees may feel disconnected from these new leaders. This disconnect can restrict overall productivity and unintentionally limit awareness of the higher level mission, vision, or goals of the organization. The McKinsey Global Institute discovered productivity increased by 25 percent when leadership is connected to employees. When communication is absent, there is no rapport with the employees—engagement will suffer, management will risk getting buy-in and organizational change/transition success will be comprised.
Leaders should consider when to communicate, what to communicate and most importantly, how to communicate, to ensure the organization’s communication strategy becomes the catalyst for increased engagement and increased change success, best practice communication change strategy should include:
Go on a listening tour
Listening is the foundational element of good communication, but is often overlooked, as most leaders tend to engage in one-way, communication with subordinates. This skill is vitally important, especially during counseling, collaboration or diffusing volatile situations. Listening allows staff to feel acknowledged, appreciated and respected. Leaders who don’t employ active listening ultimately create separation, distance and negative work relationships—the result is an environment resistant to change.
Communicate using an “all of the above” strategy
Organizations often embrace strategic change goals in terms of business outcomes that can be written in Congressional Testimony or in compliance with OMB standards. However, these written goals likely lack the personal appeal that many employees are seeking, i.e. “what’s in it for me.” Moreover, there are a variety of communication styles that represent the individual employees who are collectively the organization. Face-to-face dialogue works best with some, email communication with others and instant messaging or texting work for the rest…when considering work communication methodologies, there is no gold standard. No one method will work for everyone. Change and transition require communication flexibility and adaptability that will balance multiple strategies including verbal, video, social, and sensory expressions (yes, music, smell, and taste) that communicate the change goals to the organization.
Recognize a job well done
Successful leaders create and nurture environments where employees want to perform well. Those leaders have learned to communicate value, encouragement and recognition to those employees who quietly exceed the standard. Empowered employees are confident and feel valued. Recognition comes in all forms. Leadership during transition can define the standards for communication within the agency that will highlight and reinforce the recognition for the employees that subtly encourage and optimize performance to maximize the success potential for change.
When leaders insert these strategies into their communication plan, they will reap the benefits of increased productivity, along with the potential for increased morale and higher performance. Effective and strategic communication is often an afterthought that must be appropriately positioned as a critical forethought to proactively define listening, flexibility and recognition to yield effective change.