The 5 sins of Badly Behaving Leaders and the 5 ways you can protect yourself (somewhat)

As most in the U.S. have heard by now, the nascent candidacy of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is under fire for accusations about Klobuchar mistreating her staff. Some of the accusations have included:

  • Yelling and humiliating staff for sometimes minor issues (such as small grammatical errors)
  • Throwing things out of anger in the office (but not hitting anybody with them)
  • Asking the staff to do demeaning tasks, such as Klobuchar reportedly once yelled at a staff member for not bringing a fork for her salad on a flight, then ate the salad with a comb and subsequently told the staffer to clean the comb (um, I know it is besides the point, but how about cleaning it before you eat the salad, too?);

When confronted by these accusations, Senator Klobuchar has said at a CNN Town Hall, “Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes. But I have kept expectations for myself that are very high. I’ve asked my staff to meet those same expectations.” It is also important to note that many of her long-term staffers have come out in support of her and her management style, some noting that being tough is what we want in our leaders.

There are many good articles and reporting on this story if you want to find out more about these accusations.  It has sparked a lot of interesting debate about whether we hold tough women to a double standard, and what the line is between having high expectations and abuse (and the fact that both can exist at the same time). 

I am waiting to hear more on this story before making any personal judgments about Senator Klobuchar’s candidacy, but in the meantime, I have really appreciated the story’s spotlight on something many of us have seen through the years: leaders behaving badly towards their immediate staff. Some of these leaders could be brilliant communicators and beloved by the employee population at large; however, their day-to-day interaction with their people reveals almost a Jekyll & Hyde situation.

Why is this important? First, no person should feel abused at work. It is one thing to feel pushed hard or feel the pressure of high expectations, and it is another to feel subjected to cruelty and humiliation. Putting moral and ethical considerations aside, it becomes “anti-talent” because you simply cannot bring your best of yourself to work when it is being abused.  

And if that wasn’t enough, it is bad for the organization, its growth and its culture. This is especially true when the leader in question is the CEO since the people in his orbit that may be abused are the other key leaders in the organization, which tends to have a trickle down affect that can infect the entire business. 

More specifically, here are 5 sins of badly behaving leaders:

  1. Suppressing Innovation (or creating the Blame Culture)

To me, the definition of a “toxic” culture is one in which people’s behavior is guided by fear of being blamed for failure. This culture almost always starts at the top. The same leaders who make public pronouncements about the importance of innovative “trying and failing,” actually have no patience for any perceived failure.

Once you get yelled at for, say, small grammatical errors, you are going to be far less likely to attempt riskier projects. Innovative thinking is left on the table, and people seek only “safe” projects. You lose all sense of psychological safety at work.

2. Wasting Talent (or “I am the State”)

In my opinion, this is the biggest sin of badly-behaving leaders. These leaders believe, as Louis XIV said famously, “L’etat c’est moi (I am the State).” This means that anything that is good for the leader is good for the company. This is often how staff gets into situations like washing combs.

There is no doubt that leaders sacrifice a tremendous amount to do their jobs, and the opportunity cost of their time is extremely high. CEOs particularly need more help than most executives because there are so many demands on their time and presence.  However, it is the complete lack of respect for the opportunity cost of those underneath when this becomes an issue. Not only is what you are asking them to do humiliating; it is also keeping them from doing tasks that may be more valuable to the company.

3. Distracting from What Really Matters

Bad behavior is a distraction. If you had joined Amy Klobuchar’s campaign because you believe that only she possesses the leadership necessary to take the country where it needs to go, that idealism and sense of purpose might get lost in the day-to-day fear of having a binder thrown (allegedly). 

As many of us in the communications and HR fields believe, a sense of purpose is a major driver in retaining and engaging talent (for a classic in this space, see Simon Sinek’s Start with Why).  When we lose that sense of purpose, we lose our organizational compass, and our “calling” becomes a job. This problem is compounded when the badly-behaving leader is the CEO, because this distraction from the purpose ends up happening to the top leaders and staff who work directly with him; often the very people who are supposed to be modeling purposeful behavior to the rest of the employee population.

4. Creating a reactive culture (or pleasing an audience of one)

Those of you who have worked in the orbit of a badly behaving leader know that despite best intentions, much of what drives action around those leaders is trying to please them (or at least avoiding displeasing them). It becomes almost a parental relationship.

Much time is spent anticipating what will make them happy and what will draw their ire. This means that less time is spent thinking about what will be good for the organization or its customers.  Sometimes what pleases the leader in question is also what is good for the organization, but it doesn’t always work that way.

5. Bleeding your best talent

All of this ends in the best talent leaving. Think of who would stay and want to try to thrive under these conditions? Would it be the innovatively courageous or the rising stars who could eventually become a threat? Or the people who are content to “wait things out” or is worried about their value to another organization.

5 Ways to Protect Yourself

Unfortunately, particularly when it is the CEO, it is difficult for staffers, including internal communications, to do much about changing these circumstances. It really takes either a strong leadership team, or a strong Board to recognize bad behavior and what it does to a company, and do something about it. The move to taking action under such circumstances is made more difficult if the company is somehow doing well and growing. There is natural fear of fixing something that is not broken. “He’s not nice to his team, but whatever he is doing is working.”

However, there are a few actions you can take as a direct report or staffer to these types of leaders that can protect you to some extent. Many of these things are things we should all be doing anyway, but become even more important to surviving certain leaders:

  1. Be outcomes focused: When your actions are focused on outcomes that are hopefully aligned with the organizations stated objectives, you can keep the conversation about those objectives instead of about your competence, intelligence, etc.
  2. Be metrics focused: As part of being outcomes focused, it helps to show data behind why you are suggesting an action or direction. Also unfortunately, you may need this data if your role or your work’s value to the organization comes into question by the leader. 2
  3. Always have a bead on the voice of the employee: Particularly if you are in communications or in HR, it is important to have a very transparent and consistent way of hearing directly from employees, and be able to use that voice to explain your course of action.
  4. Check your self-esteem. And by “check” it, I don’t mean check it at the door. It is difficult to not let the words of a leader affect your self worth, particularly if those words are personal and humiliating. However, what you need to check is your ability to withstand those attacks by really knowing and believing in your strengths. Of course, validating your course of action with colleagues and peers also helps.
  5. Take your talents elsewhere. Honestly, life is too short and you have too much to offer. Go somewhere where you can feel like you can enable great leadership, instead of being in a state of fear of running afoul of a leader’s whims and tantrums.

Whether or not Amy Klobuchar deserves the recent bad press, let’s use this as a moment to shine a light on the detrimental affects of leaders behaving badly on both the people who work with them and on the organization at large.  I am all for high expectations and a firm hand, but most of us know sustained mistreatment when we see it.

5 Digital Workplace Takeaways from the Recent Economist Workplace Comms Study

Since it came out March of last year, many of you may have already poured through the Economists special report on “Communications Barriers in the Workplace” sponsored by LucidChart.  I embarrassingly missed it, and it was only brought to my attention by a recent articlefrom @RaganComms. 

My reckless reading habits aside, I found this survey of 403 senior executives, managers and junior staff on the trials and tribulations of communicating in the workplace fascinating  It provides a wealth of digital workplace and channel strategy takeaways for employee communicators, among other groups. 

One key takeaway is definitely the reported damage caused by poor communication, including lost sales, incomplete projects and a tremendous amount of employee stress. Besides the conclusions that you can read in its executive summary, here are a few more quick ones for Employee Communicators that jumped out at me:

1 – Employee Communications needs to focus more on how employees communicate with each other to do their jobs

This Economist survey is not a study about leadership communications or corporate communications, but about how employees communicate and collaborate with each other to do their jobs. The “management” of this type of communication had been traditionally largely in the hands of managers and IT, while employee communications focused on either leadership communicators or maybe, peer influencers.

However, it is clear that the expertise and knowledge of employee communicators makes them uniquely qualified to drive the business requirements for the digital workplace when it comes to communication and collaboration. Employee communications should know how and when employees communicate with each other within their company, as well as understand the current pain points. 

2 – Driving the use of video conferencing should be an employee communications priority

Across generations, 65% of respondents said that face-to- face meetings are a very effective mode of communication. In the days of increasing global teams and remote workers, video conferencing is the most cost effective ways to make face-to-face meetings the norm. 

In my last company, we used Zoom, which I found very effective, but there are a lot of other options. We used it for everything from one-to-one conversations to global town halls (although there are some bandwidth restrictions for which IT needs to be a partner). 

Again, decisions about whether a company used video conferencing and if it did, which option it chose, were often the sole province of the telecommunications group. However, given its impact on company-communications, Employee Communications should be part of those decisions.

3 – The growing use of IM as a workplace communication channel is a screaming signal that our channels are inadequate. 

While, according to the study, Boomers are not using IM as much, it is significant that over 50% of Millennials and Gen X’ers use IM as a workplace mode of communication “every day” or “most days.” That is a fast-growing majority of your workforce. 

While there is nothing inherently wrong with that (except for confidential information potentially being communicated outside of company firewalls if personal phones are being used), it does mean your communications systems are not fully meeting the needs of your employees. IM is also limiting because usually it is not tied to your global address system, so only those employees who have actively shared numbers can communicate.  

It would be better to have a solution like SlackMicrosoft Yammeror Dynamic Signalthat allow you to fully collaborate with your team within specific projects. 

4 – Maybe we need to get involved in improving meetings too.

I hate meetings, and study after study shows that I am not alone. This study piles on. “Too many unproductive meetings” made 56% of the respondents somewhat or very stressed. In fact, this was the most stressful situation tested in the survey; it even beat tight deadlines (53%).  Add to this fact the recent studyby online scheduling service Doodle that found that the productivity costs of poorly organized meetings in 2019 will reach $399B in the U.S. and $58B in the UK, and you have a significant challenge for companies. 

Who better than Employee Communications to solve that challenge? To start with, just having clear goals for a meeting would have a very or somewhat significant impact in improving meetings according to 79% of the respondents.  Efficient and effective meeting training and tools are something that is well within the purview of Employee Communications. 

5 – You are better off with more communication tools than less.

Often we debate how many communication tools we should offer employees. On one hand, the more the merrier; on the other, are we overwhelming them to the point where they don’t use the tools at all. According to this study, employees are on the side of the first hand. Sixty-three percent of respondents said that having a wider range of communication tools would significantly improve work communication. 

If you have any other takeaways that you think are significant, please share!  

16 Ways Change Goes Wrong for Internal Communications

Managing change and, specifically, change communications can feel as vulnerable as surgery, and at the same time, as heavy handed as an upper cut. The amount of changes a company can go through is staggering; whether they are focused on organizational restructuring, technology, HR policies, incentives, new and leaving leadership, brand, M&A, or offered products and services, employees must make sense of them, and then make conscious or unconscious decisions about whether the change helps or hurts them.

When you are managing change so much can go right, but unfortunately much can go wrong too. Here is my list of where things can go wrong:

  1. There is no well-defined, agreed-to vision of where the company is going
  2. There is no single, clearly-defined problem being solved or logical case for the change
  3. Multiple changes feel isolated and not part of a single corporate journey
  4. There is no clearly articulated urgency for change
  5. Employees do not understand how they will be affected by the change and how they can contribute to it
  6. Employees do not see the benefits of the change or the pain from not changing
  7. Leadership is not vocally and emphatically behind the change
  8. Because leaders have been working on the change for a significant amount of time, they forget that employees who just found out about the change will not be in the same emotional place as the leaders are when the change happens
  9. There is no credible and influential champion for the change
  10. The path to change appears arduous and painful
  11. Leadership and employees are not properly educated or trained on change
  12. People managers are not brought in early enough to recruit as agents of change
  13. Not all significant stakeholders have been included in the planning for the change
  14. Employees do not see momentum from quick wins
  15. Employees (particularly Authentic Informal Leaders) are not included in helping other employees embrace the change
  16. Once made, the changes are not embedded into the culture and the “everyday” of the company

I am certain I am missing bad practices and pitfalls, and would love to hear from you about what I should be adding. I list all of these not to freak anyone, including myself out, but as a reminder that change deserves time to be thought through and planned.

Is the Management of Change a Key Driver of Employee Engagement Today?

I was delighted to participate in a recent panel on the Future of Engagement at the beautiful offices of Paul Hastings in New York City. The panel was sponsored by Instinctif Partners and the Employee Engagement Awards, hosted and moderated by Arielle Lapiano, Director of Communications at Paul Hastings, and included Bernie Charland from CPP Investment Board, Lauren Kucic from JP Morgan Chase, Victoria Lewis-Stephens from Instinctif, and my friend and former colleague Paul Thomas of UBS.

I learned a lot from the discussion, but the biggest take-away I had was that the topic of managing change dominated a discussion that was supposed to be about employee engagement. After the panel, I felt a little downhearted that we had spent so much time on change, essentially turning Instinctif and Employee Engagement Awards into false advertisers. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we were staying on topic: change today is a key driver of employee engagement.

As so many have acknowledged, change is happening at an ever-quickening pace. Recently, I heard someone talking about a Fortune 100 company, “we used to have annual restructurings; now they are quarterly.” He wasn’t complaining, just stating the reality that for companies to keep up with the changes in the market, with new technology, with new customer expectations, with changing global political landscapes, etc., they need to be constantly evolving. And as with evolution in nature, corporate evolution often happens in discomfiting fits and starts.

There already exists a lot of great analysis on how having strong employee engagement can help a company through change. An excellent example of that is Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson‘s blog Employee Engagement as a Key Strategy for Change. However, what about the opposite side of the coin? Is change a key factor in employee engagement? More specifically, is one of the major determinants of employee engagement today how companies manage change ?

When we think of employee engagement, we often think of levers like:

  • Do employees like their jobs?
  • Do they understand and believe the purpose of the organization and how their jobs fulfill that purpose?
  • Do they feel like they are being treated fairly?
  • What is the quality of their managers and leaders?
  • Do they have the tools and training to do their jobs?

While this is not a comprehensive list, I have never seen “how well does the company manage change,” as a factor. And yet, it would seem today to be one of the most important. Does change feel like the journey towards a vision, or does it feel like tumult?

One more thought: I have often heard leaders speak about transforming their employees to become “change resilient,” often through training or incentives. While I don’t doubt that employees could be better prepared for change, I am not sure that transforming human nature which is often change resistant is a successful short or mid-term strategy. It could take a full generation before we see real results.

However, managing change correctly is something that companies can do right now. At Mercer, for instance, my communications colleague Laura Parsons has spearheaded, in partnership with HR, a change methodology and toolset that leaders and managers can use to manage through change. That would seem to be a better way to go than trying to change the very human resistance to change.

Would love to hear your thoughts on whether the management of change is a key driver of employee engagement today.

How do employee’s EXTERNAL interests work to engage people INTERNALLY? #MercerActive

“Why would anyone outside my office and work team care about the 5K I just ran for charity? I mean, I’m proud of it, but it doesn’t feel like something the whole world needs to know about, and why would I use our firm’s hashtag?”

I was recently asked these great questions from a modest colleague who I was trying to convince to post about it on Twitter using our MercerActive hashtag. Never mind that people post all the time on much lesser accomplishments, but why associate it with #MercerActive? The short answer is that it helps build colleague engagement across Mercer, but that probably deserves a bit more explanation.

The MercerActive hashtag was established to create connective tissue around all the health and wellness activities our colleagues do in their spare time, or occasionally on behalf of Mercer (e.g., race sponsorship, office softball team). You may be wondering why not just let colleagues post on their activities on their own accounts, and those who follow them can be updated there, rather than create a special hashtag? Here’s why.

  1. A communications “binding agent”: At many global organizations, employees tend to bond with their immediate team and office mates, but not with anybody else across the company. There is absolutely nothing wrong with local bonding, especially since it may be that work and customer activities need to be very local. However, even if that is true, there are always good reasons to get people to link with colleagues outside of their local teams. For instance, it opens up connections between people that allow for idea and information sharing. It also reminds people that they are part of something bigger than their local team that both gives them a broader perspective and helps them see how their work fits in with the company’s overall mission. There are a number of “binding agent” topics that reach across employee populations. Health and wellness is something that employees are concerned about and interested in all over the world. Whether it is achieving an athletic accomplishment or talking about a new healthy diet, it sparks interest and conversations among employees who would otherwise never speak.
  2. We want active employees: Unlike some personal interests that employees may hold (e.g., rebuilding car engines, puppeteering, etc.), health and wellness is one that promotes the interests of almost all companies. Most companies have some health and wellness program that this would fit into nicely, or at least have a stated position about the importance of healthy employees. At Mercer, we also have a business that promotes health affordability, accessibility and quality outcomes, and being able to show through our #MercerActive hashtag that we have a culture that values healthy employees is in sync.
  3. Presenting an attractive culture: We could fulfill the above by having employees just post their active pursuits on the intranet. However, by making it a hashtag to be used in external social media, we are projecting an attractive culture to potential recruits who value exercise, health and even competition. They can also see how we encourage, support and congratulate each other when we post about our MercerActive accomplishments. It allows us to show our supportive culture rather than just say we have one, which is much more powerful.

As a colleague, I am proud of the traffic on our #MercerActive. As a communicator, I am thankful for it.

#SilverLinings: How the new Twitter Rules will force you to rethink your Employee Advocacy Program

Just because we can all agree that the wild west needed to end at some point, doesn’t mean we can’t miss it a bit.

As many of you already know by now, Twitter has changed its policies to counter, as Yoel Roth, API Policy and Product Trust at Twitter, wrote on the Developer’s Blog, any “attempt to artificially amplify or inflate the prominence of certain Tweets.” These new rules stem from the now well-publicized social media shenanigans from the U.S. 2016 elections. I encourage you to read that blog to get context and details around these changes, which go into effect March 23, 2018.

However, boiling this down for Internal Communicators, this is definitely a bump in the employee advocacy road — especially for those who use third party vendor software that help you provide tweets that employees can push out on their social media network with one or two clicks. Actually, any internal communications or social marketing group that delivers ready-to-send tweets for employees can to use (even if they have to cut and paste those tweets) will have to stop doing that on March 23 or put your employees at risk of losing their Twitter accounts.

While I find it hard to argue with the thinking behind implementing these new Twitter rules, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bummer for those of us trying to implement Advocacy programs. Converting even your most engaged employees into advocates is no different from any other change program. To paraphrase from the Heath brothers’ great book Switch, it is sometimes not enough to win head and heart; you need to make the pathway clear and easy. Providing ready-made tweets and posts that are editable, goes a long way towards making it easy to become advocates. After March 23, you are basically saying to employees, “here is a link and a hastag, write your own tweet.” While that doesn’t seem like much, those of us who work with busy employees know that it can make a HUGE difference in adoption.

In preparing for a Post-March 23 world, I have to admit, I felt a bit negative about the prospects of our Employee Advocacy program. But after conferring with more intelligent and less emotional communications professionals (like Mercer’s global head of Social Media, the great Danielle Guzman) and our third-party software vendor, Dynamic Signal, I feel much more hopeful for the future; in fact, we may be on an even better pathway than before the rule. It is true that the idea of hundreds of employees lazily sending out the exact same tweet, while reaching a larger social audience, did seem a bit lame.

Three Pathways Forward

  1. Champion Retweets: Instead of providing editable posts through your Employee Advocacy system, you can simply point employees to retweet posts from the company’s handle or from leadership. In my mind, this is just as attractive in terms of ease. Further, you can appoint certain SME’s and people already engaged on twitter, as “champions” on certain topics, having them create the original tweets that get retweeted. This will help grow those “champions” as influencers, and will still allow individuals to build their personal brand and drive messaging for the company.
  2. The Harpoon instead of the Net. Launching software that allows you to provide employees one-click tweets and posts is akin to dragging the net on the bottom of the ocean floor. You don’t know what you will pick up, but you’ll pick up a lot of it. One-click editable posts make it so easy that you are bound to get some good percentage of your employees to sign on and start posting. But how engaged will they be? Their lack of effort means they can always take or leave the advocacy. The new Twitter policy forces us to spend more time trying to harpoon the bigger fish, by convincing them to put some “skin in the game” in writing their own tweets. There won’t be as many of these advocates, but their greater activity will mean they are more engaged and see a benefit that makes them want to put in the effort. You can entice them further by offering them social media training, and perhaps even give them some “swag” to make them feel like they are part of an exclusive group. So while losing the greater numbers is not what I would have freely chosen, the alternative is a smaller group of pro-active participants that will give you a richer employee advocacy program.
  3. LinkedIn, anyone? Finally, this is a policy that affects ONLY Twitter for now. You can still provide posts for LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and other platforms. And frankly, most of your employees may feel better about posting company and industry-related messaging and information to their LinkedIn network.

So while you may have an initial shock and sense of dismay over the new Twitter rules, a silver lining or two can be found if you change your perspective. #GoodbyeWildWest

Steps Internal Communications Can Take To Embed Change

I recently read an excellent article by Kristy Hull in last May’s strategy + business (I’m a bit behind) on Getting to the Critical Few Behaviors that Can Drive Cultural Change. In it, she provides a strategic framework around change that centers around zeroing in on those impactful and actionable new behaviors by employees that are key to getting to a particular business outcome. To brainstorm those behaviors, Hull invites us to ask the question, “In a future state in which we’ve achieved the goals, what would people actually do (or do differently)?”

As communicators and change professionals, we know that we are rarely lucky enough to answer that question with a behavior that employees only have to exhibit once or twice. It’s almost never “employees need to click their heels three times and say there is no place like home,” or the princess or prince is kissed and everybody lives happily ever after (and by the way, Hull does not at all imply that this is the case). Usually change behavior needs to be exhibited multiple times, often daily and often for the long-term. In other words, the behavior ideally turns into habit.

As Hull says, behavior change needs to be built on a foundation of the right incentives, focused performance management, and sometimes organizational design and leadership change. However, a good communication strategy needs to be overlaid on top of these other actions. Internal Communications can help embed the behaviors and turn them into habits with tried and true tactics.

Gathering Virtual Dust and Real Cynicism

This may be controversial (or maybe not with veteran Communicators), but I go into planning these change strategies and tactics with the belief that unless you are a brand new organization, every company has a credibility problem with their employees — especially their more veteran employees – when it comes to change. Every company, with the best of intentions, has started a corporate change “program” or “campaign” that has died on the vine because it wasn’t well thought through, just didn’t have the commitment by leadership that it needed, or circumstances changed and the need for the change was no longer appropriate. Whether it ended for good reasons or bad, employees are left with yet another water bottle on their desk, poster on their wall, or digital card on their screen saver with program logos or slogans like “Imagine the Possibilities” or “Innovate to Create,” that are gathering real or virtual dust.

Look, it happens. You try something; you put a lot of work into it. You do as many right things as you can. And you still fail. Trying and failing should not be a crime when it comes to cultural change programs (or innovation of any kind). This is how you learn. However, employees may start to lose faith in these programs. Maybe not after one failure, but after two or three, employees may be naturally skeptical. If failures keep happening, skepticism turns into cynicism, and then you have to recalibrate how you approach new programs.

It’s a problem, but not an insurmountable one, because through experience, I have also come to the conclusion that most employees want to believe. They want plans to improve the culture of the company to create growth to succeed. Why not? Growth means more money to do more interesting things (and better bonuses). Improved culture often means a better environment to work in, streamlined processes and less focus on unimportant things.

Stacking the Deck in Your Favor

The bigger elephant in any room when it comes to change is layoffs. Employees may be concerned that change could put their job in jeopardy. And let’s face it, with some change programs there may be some job loss. If layoffs are part of any change program, the earlier in the plan that can happen, the better off you will be. As upsetting as layoffs are for employees, if they can see that they are part of a broader change plan (and not just cost cutting) and that they are now “safe,” they are more willing to move forward even if still feeling badly for their laid off colleagues. Again, they want the company to succeed; they just need to know there is a plan.

When they see that they are safe, a few precautions can be put into place that will reinforce that desire, start embedding change behavior into habits, and give them some confidence that it will succeed.

  1. Start with Leadership: This is table stakes. Simply put, if employees don’t see their leadership exhibiting the behaviors they are asking from employees, then it won’t be long before they begin to wonder how committed the company is to the change. If there is training involved, start with the top leadership, and then have that trained leadership be part of the programs for the next level of leadership and so on down the line. It is important to remember that in a large corporations, while the C-Suite and the next level of division/business presidents are important for setting the tone, it is usually the CEO-2 and -3 leaders that employees see and hear on a more regular basis.

    Making sure to engage that, what I call, “upper-middle” level is so crucial. I was once part of a research effort to find out how certain changes were being embedded into the company by conducting hour-long interviews with non-leadership employees. What we found out was shocking: not only were change concepts not being passed down from this upper-middle layer of leadership, but because the changes were seen as a threat in terms of where certain teams reported, some of that leadership layer were actively engaged in turning their people against the changes. We had done a poor job of engaging that level and helping them own the changes, and in return they stopped the change program in its tracks. Other research has shown that it is not always so nefarious; some leaders just don’t know the “where or when” of how to communicate the change.

    A few business leaders I have worked with schedule calls with those next two levels of leadership on a regular basis to help them feel engaged with what is going on. The calls are followed with tool kits or “message maps” so that it is easy for the next layer to know what and how (and sometimes when) they can communicate with their teams. You can see how Internal Communications can play a huge role in this crucial piece.

  2. Paint a visionary picture with measurable milestones. As they say, it’s hard to get where you are going if you don’t know where that is. If employees are presented with a vision of the future as a result of the changed behavior that is both sunnier and feels realistic, they are more likely to want to get on board for the long haul. And if they are presented, in a transparent way, measurable progress, that will further boost your chances of changing behavior into habits. It’s the old charity thermometer trick. Some charities set campaign goals and show their progress by using the visual metaphor of a thermometer, and as the donation rise, you can see the mercury rising in the thermometer (never mind that in real life, this would mean you were getting sicker). While people may start a new behavior to get to a sunnier future, having shorter term milestones and a visual reference created by Internal Communications for employees to see the progress will drive them to continue to exhibit that behavior.
  3. Find your bright spots. Nothing motivates more than success. Related to showing progress is demonstrating quick wins and recognizing “heroes” of the new changes. Employees may sometimes have credibility issues with leadership, but they are apt to trust their colleagues. If you can show how fellow colleagues are prospering or how clients are happier with the new changes, you have done much to validate the changes. It is not foolproof, but it is incredibly effective.
  4. Make it easy. This is related to the Heath brothers’ idea of “shrinking the change,” which refers to helping people boil down a big change into specific actions. Many of us love using numbers for something like this. So if you want to boost prospecting, you create a “20 + 20” program where you ask everyone to spend 20 minutes a day researching new prospects, and make 20 calls a day to new leads. You can even make this into a challenge to heighten the fun. So if you are trying to embed learning in your culture, you can do “15 for 15” challenge, where you ask people to pick a topic and spend 15 scheduled minutes a day learning about this topic for 15 days straight, and then share what they have learned with others.
  5. Creating a change-adaptable culture. I listed this as one of the 5 greatest Internal Communications opportunities for 2018. It comes down to this: some changes are going to succeed and some will fail, but employees are going to need to get used to the idea that they are going to continue to happen at a faster rate. In fact, if you feel like your company is not in the midst of change, you should be concerned. And the change is not just about companies and what they do and how they do it, but it is about employees. In the last two years, I have seen a number of great articles on and speeches on the concept that they old pattern of education-then-career-then-retirement is over. Lifelong learning and career shifts will become the norm. That’s why a culture of learning is so important as a key building block to change adaptability. Training for leadership and managers on how to manage through change is going to become more important as well.


All this to say that Internal Communications can play a huge role in embedding change. However, it requires Communications to be in on the planning stages of the change and not brought in only when an announcement needs to be made. Also, it requires leadership to have a picture of not just the longer term vision, but the new behaviors and skills from employees it will require.

And with all of that, some changes will still fail, but if you have the right culture, employees will be with you when you brush yourself off and try again.