All businesses, even the most stalwart enterprises, operate in a sea of constant change. Lately, many firms have found themselves navigating complete business transformations. Whether brought on by digital disruption, economic shifts, mergers and consolidations, workforce upheaval, or other factors, business model transformations can be very choppy.
So a The key is transforming the company culture to fit the new mission. That improvement starts with communicating effectively — and listening. Here are five ways CEOs can make this happen:
1. Make Your Case for Change, and Make It Transparently
Your managers and workers may be clinging to the past, so you as a leader must make a firm case for letting go of it. That starts with clearly and openly explaining to both leaders and employees why marketplace dynamics and competition have made transformation necessary. Education must start with the leadership team and extended management chain, as these players must be the positive change agents, not obstacles to the changes.
2. Paint an Exciting Vision of the Future
With as much clarity and detail as you can muster, show employees what the transformation means for them in their individual jobs and explain how changes in how they do their work can benefit them and the company as a whole. Identify this as an exciting journey to discover the future, and ask employees to come along.
If it is not yet clear how people will be affected, make it a conversation about core values, which will continue to provide the glue that holds people together through the uncertain but exciting times ahead.
3. Find Your Champions
Find those stars in your company who can best lead employees on the transformation journey. Who are your natural leaders? Your innovators? Your data jockeys who can use numbers to make a great case? Your most dependable workers who keep things running? Gather them together to create a guiding coalition that will present the company’s unified transformation mission and make it a strategic and cultural success. This task demands much more than a one-leader show, no matter how strong the CEO’s charisma and personal credibility may be. Remember the goal here is to build a new, unifying culture, not a cult of personality.
4. Listen and Help
Monitor how well your transformation message is landing with your workforce, and empower them to partner with you. Your people need to do more than listen to your continuing messages — they need to socialize with each other, chew on your words, and eventually find a way to participate. Company surveys to measure workforce sentiment are a great way to bring leadership to the water cooler to understand both the enthusiasm and obstacles all employees face as changes roll.
5. Maintain the Right Level of Distress
Create a sense of urgency to motivate change, but not so much that people feel paralyzed. Renowned researcher Ronald Heifetz, founding director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School, points out the importance of establishing a “holding environment” that provides the optimal level of distress for engaging others in the change process. Work avoidance will be triggered if the distress is too high or not high enough. People need to feel safe enough to do adaptive work but not so safe that they will do nothing.
Dr. Phil Jury joined is a senior consultant with CultureIQ.