Leading People During Uncertain Times: A Focus on Clarity, Connection, and Conversation
Here’s an assumption I’m making – you’ve got your communication strategy nailed down for the change you’re engaging in. Having cohesive messaging that all leaders are aligned on is critical when working toward change. But we all know that people don’t do things just because they are told. Anyone who’s been around small children knows this. I think I control my 3-year-old daughter, but in reality she controls me!
Clarity, Connection, Conversation
In my experience, during change people want and need three things: clarity, connection, and conversation. Let’s consider these one at a time.
Clarity is about helping people understand why the change is necessary, what is changing, and what is not changing. But it’s also about transparency – creating a clear line of sight for employees about what’s happening in the organization, ensuring they can see the reality of the situation. People need to understand what is really at stake. So while I might sugarcoat a story for my 3-year old daughter, I always keep things transparent for my people. If leaders don’t convey the facts, people will discuss among themselves and create conspiracy theories about what’s happening. This is wasted time and energy that could be invested in creating the change you’re after. An important thing to remember about clarity is that it’s not about being right or having all the answers. It’s about facing reality and providing direction and honest insights as the situation evolves.
Connection is not about staying physically close to those you lead, but giving them access to and time with those they want to hear from. In my experience, when people are being asked to change, they want to have conversations with people in the organization other than their manager. Typically, they may want to hear from other leaders in the organization who can provide additional context or insight on the change, they will want to talk to their peers who have been successful in adapting to the new way of doing things, and they may want extra time with training and development partners to master specific new skills that are proving difficult for them to adopt.
Being a conduit for these connections will go a long way toward actively engaging your team in the change because they will feel more like a participant in the change. These connections can also spark new insights about how to increase the likelihood of the change being successful. This is critical because the success of corporate initiatives is pretty dismal. Forbes, Fortune, Harvard, and McKinsey, among others, tell us that anywhere from 65 to 75% of the time, corporate change initiatives fail to deliver their expected return. Additionally, there is only good to come by encouraging your people to validate the change with others.
Conversation matters more than ever during times of change. In my experience, there are a variety of conversations you need to be able to have to lead through change. One is the personal conversation, as you need to be able to make a personal connection with the people on your team and give them the space to be honest and open about their experience. One of the fastest ways to cause those you lead to disengage with you is to ignore their personal experience with the change.
The next conversation you need to be able to have is a facilitated team discussion related to the change. This again is focused on having an honest and open conversation so the team feels heard.
The third conversation is one that leads to action. This could be part of the team conversation where the goal is alignment on what the team is going to do next or how they plan to act on what they’ve learned from other colleagues you’ve connected them with.
You need to be able to say, “My direct reports feel heard, my team feels heard, and when we meet, whether that’s with others or just the team itself, I can facilitate the conversation so that my team commits to and takes action on what we discuss.”
Tips for Achieving Successful Clarity, Connection, and Conversation
What are some actions that you as an HR or learning leader can take? When it comes to the critical few, these are some that are on my list:
1) Create unity. Ensure the executive team has cohesive clarity around the change and a compelling story related to it.
2) Engage people’s hearts and minds. Provide storytelling training to make sure leaders at all levels have the necessary skills to engage and inspire your people.
3) Leverage coaching to connect with teams. Ensure leaders have some grounding in a coaching approach so they can have more productive conversations with their direct reports.
4) Create connections from afar. Working remotely means building relationships differently. For example, if managers meet once a month with direct reports in person, they should increase their cadence to weekly or biweekly, and be intentional about checking in. It’s essential to keep relationships thriving even while distant.
5) Use new tools to make WFH (working from home) a success. The effort required to engage people virtually means leaders and managers will need to be very thoughtful about how they structure team meetings. Help them by providing training on running engaging and productive virtual meetings. One simple way to do this is to structure meetings around three core agenda items: What new or updated information do they need, what do they need to learn or continue to develop their skills in, and what topics need to be discussed?
6) Accelerate tech adoption. Right now, the technology your employees have access to is critical, so try a two-step approach to boosting adoption:
- Survey employees regarding their awareness and use of all the technology systems they have access to and are critical to their job performance.
- Develop targeted training based on the results of this survey. It’s easy to get caught in thinking that a new situation requires a new tool or technology when the easiest and fastest answer may be getting more people to use more of what’s already available to them.
I remain hopeful and optimistic about the future, in part, because I know many of you who may read this, and I have seen firsthand your commitment to creating great cultures and great places to work. I believe you, too, see the value in clarity, connection, and conversation. If you aren’t sure how to improve what you’re doing in these three areas, pick one or two actions mentioned above that resonate. Start there and then act boldly to get those things done. As Goethe said, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”