Communicating versus Leading Change to Shift Cultures

Communicating versus Leading Change to Shift Cultures
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Are You Confusing “Communicating Change” with “Leading Change” to Shift Cultures?
Change management consultants know that corporate culture change is not easy and can be frustratingly slow — especially if leaders misunderstand the difference between communicating versus leading change.

Our organizational alignment research found that corporate culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performance.  And even though the strategic imperative to change is non-negotiable for most businesses, successful change is one of the biggest challenges that organizations face.  As one client CEO put it, “Do it differently and do it better, or your company is unlikely to succeed or last.”

Change Communication versus Change Leadership
At its core, change communication is about ensuring that those affected by change get the right information, at the right, time, from the right people, in the right way.  Without a doubt, communication is an important part of any successful change initiative.  In fact, 81% of highly aligned companies report timely and accurate information sharing.

Change leadership is about working together across the organization to create a shared understanding of the change required to execute the strategy and how best to make it happen. Leaders play a pivotal role and must navigate and manage change quickly and appropriately while remaining focused on delivering results.

If only it were as easy as communicating the organizational changes that you seek.  Savvy change leaders know that it takes more. In fact, research by Gartner found that even though 83% of leaders consistently communicated the desired cultural changes, much of what they advocated was not taking hold.

Why, and what is the solution?  Change management simulation participant data and further research points toward some answers.

  • Less than 30% of leaders behaved in a manner consistent with the desired culture.
  • Less than 20% of leaders drove the business processes and practices that would support and align with the desired culture.
  • Only 32% of HR leaders agree their organization is effective at embedding culture into employees’ day-to-day work.

In other words, organizational culture shifts require much more than communication. To speed up and effect true culture change, change leadership and day-to-day work realignment are needed.

6 Areas of Change Leadership to Get Right

  1. Personal Commitment
    Successful change leaders ensure their behaviors visibly and consistently support the desired changes. They devote more of their own time to the change effort while keeping an eye on the big picture. They demonstrate alignment to the change in both what they say and do. They know that leadership commitment is about concentrating on the long-term goal versus short-term personal survival.

    This type of leadership commitment requires courage, intentionality, and decisiveness.
  2. The Power of Why
    When driving change, effective change leaders inspire, engage, and empower people through stories, not by staring at data and charts. Successful change leaders imagine, articulate, and invite their audience to become an active part of the vision for change. Change leaders are more effective at unlocking commitment to a change when they clarify its purpose, connect it to the organization’s core values, and explain the impact.

    While everyone continuously communicates through daily interactions, leading change requires crafting an overarching narrative that engages and empowers people in the organization. When leaders authentically communicate the change narrative, their credibility increases; when leaders do not, they risk losing trust and confidence.

    An effective change narrative accelerates decision making, creates positive changes in attitudes, and creates the context for effective problem-solving.
  3. Compassion
    Change leadership is the intersection of people, leadership, and results. It is a call to action that leverages compassion as the catalyst for aligning the mindsets, behaviors, and habits required for highly effective relationships and exceptional results in a highly dynamic environment.

    To activate compassion authentically, leaders must make being present and curious the superpowers that effectively diffuse emotions, mitigate unproductive friction, and find common ground when the stakes are high.
  4. Navigating Paradoxes
    As leaders, we need to acknowledge that paradoxes exist and learn to be comfortable navigating them. As we encounter the tension that organizational change might generate, we must ensure that it does not cause too much friction in our teams. To do this well, we need to let go of assumptions, adopt other perspectives, challenge our underlying thinking, and be prepared to learn a new way of working.

    If we become navigators of paradox and accelerators of change, we will maintain a strong vision for where our organization is headed, make the necessary real-time adjustments in the short-term to avoid downfalls, and optimize how we get to the destination.

  5. Resiliency
    Resilience is the ability to respond during times of rapid change with confidence, flexibility, and composure, while also growing and developing in new ways. A leader’s ability to embrace uncertainty and navigate ambiguity is a critical skill because how we respond determines how our teams react.

    Resilient leaders are excellent communicators, relationship builders, coaches, continuous learners, and quality decision makers.
  6. Translate the Abstract into Specific Objectives
    It’s all well and good to “say” that there should be more emphasis placed on team rather than individual effort. But if you as a leader and your performance management system continues to recognize and reward individual achievement, the new ways will not take root. 

    Behavior changes must be operationalized in the way work gets done, measured, and rewarded for culture changes to stick.

The Bottom Line
To achieve real culture shifts, you must assess your current culture and ensure that change leaders understand the difference between communicating and leading change. Do your leaders need to step up?

To learn more about communicating versus leading change to shift cultures, download  The 3 Research-Backed Levels of Culture that Change Leaders Must Get Right

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