On March 20, 2020, there was a single pandemic message from a CEO that was leaps and bounds better than any other message I heard or read during that period.
It was from the CEO of Marriott International, Arne Sorenson. It had everything a message needs during a time when critical business change is required.
There are a few reasons why I loved his message so much:
He was authentic. You actually believed him. You wanted to believe him! He opened with a story that even his own team didn’t want him to recount.
He used specific numbers to explain just how big the change was. He told the truth and didn’t sugarcoat it. He told employees what they should expect and how bad the problem really was by talking about specific numbers. He didn’t leave anyone guessing about the severity of the situation.
He told people *why* change was needed. By explaining just how bad Marriott was hit by the pandemic, he made it clear that anyone in his position would have made the same decision. Of course, when he lays out the facts the way they really are, change must occur, and the team can stand behind it.
While times of crisis certainly raise the awareness of an issue and more readily capture employees’ attention, these two things apply to any change management situation and make for more effective change management communication.
Here are two things concise leaders do that make them more effective than the rest.
1. Explain why the change is necessary.
*Why* a change is needed is much more important than dictating what needs to change.
Let’s say sales are down in the company because of supplier constraints caused by pandemic shortages.
An ineffective message from a leader would be: “Supplier constraints are causing our sales to go down. I need everyone to be brave and start following up with the suppliers three times more than you usually do.”
All the employees hear is: “Great, we have to do more work now, for absolutely no reason!”
A better message would be: “Supplier constraints are causing our sales to go down by 35%. If we don’t make a change immediately, we are risking our jobs. I need your help to come up with solutions to reduce our reliance on our core suppliers.”
Now the team is involved in the decision-making and more likely to not only make a change but to *suggest* the change! That is big.
2. Routinely show progress.
Regularly communicate the measures of the change requested (e.g., at the start of every weekly or monthly meeting).
How often have you heard a leader say something is important and never hear about that important thing again? It happens too often.
But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that the company starts to think the leader’s message for change was actually never important!
What a leader needs is a way to track that the change is actually happening. Instead of repeating the same “we need to change” message every meeting, effective leaders use data to measure and communicate that change.
At the top of every leadership meeting, the first thing that should be discussed is measuring how the team is reacting to change.
It could read like this:
- Metric: Increase our number of available quality suppliers from five to 15 by Q4.
- Metric: Increase the number of suppliers available outside the U.S. by 30%.
You can measure it against the actual metrics and timeline.
Other things you can track are important communication messages from leadership. Through tools like PoliteMail, you can track engagement, including open rate and engagement rate, segmented by certain employee groups, departments, and locations.
What gets measured, gets done.
Next time you’re facing a big change in your organization, tell your team specifically why a change is needed without dictating what tasks need to be done and make it a priority to define metrics and measure them often.
That’s how effective change happens!