• Sarah E. Brown

Leveraging Interests During Times of Great Change


I conducted a workshop this week for a leadership team in a large company undertaking a major transformation. As I often do, I construct a human grid with individuals moving around the room to demonstrate their interests and strengths. It is an effective way for all to “see” who has interests and strengths around the various tasks a team needs to undertake. The team can then leverage those for the good of all and the enjoyment of the individual leadership teammates.

While individual strengths were relatively balanced in this particular organization, there were no individuals on the team who really enjoyed the various tasks associated with communicating to others. They enjoyed more the tasks around organizing for implementation, setting up the monitoring for success, and even planning and designing how everything would work together. These are all very important tasks, but if no one is communicating to the rest of the organization the whats, the why’s, and the how’s, the whole organization is going to be in the dark. They will at best feel left out and that the change is being done to them. At worst, they are not going to understand what they are doing or why, and therefore will not be able to contribute ideas or make any autonomous decision when they encounter a novel situation.

There was a rule of thumb we used at DuPont during major changes. Everyone needs to hear the basic message 5-7 times before they really get it. And when the change is complex and/or the input from the organization is required, the number of times they need to hear or dialogue about the change increases.

For leaders who do not find this aspect of the job the most interesting, and particularly when the changes underway are creating stress in other ways, what are the options?

1. Require your leaders to communicate anyway. You can require them to do the necessary communications anyway. It may or may not get done. And even if it does get done the required number of times to make the necessary impressions, it is going to be tiring and stressful for the leaders themselves. This is not a good way to keep your leadership team happy and refreshed to lead their teams through a major initiative. Therefore, I do not recommend this option.

2. Outsource the communications. You can always hire firms that are excellent in crafting communications for your employees. They often will come up with multi-media, multi-message communications that satisfy the needs of all employees and can generate the necessary repetition that enables the organization to process the changes. BUT, if the organization does not see their leaders as leading the change (and often the communication process has this effect) then how is the organization going take the changes seriously or get fully engaged themselves.

3. Hybrid, personalized approach. For this option, the leaders flex, more in the organization get engaged in the communication process itself, and the communications experts flex to take into account the specific interests and strengths of the leaders they serve. The leaders themselves can do 1/3 of the actual communications themselves. These leaders can then tap into their own organizations to find individuals who enjoy this work and use it as a developmental experience for them. Their organizations can do 1/3 of the communications. And the experts at communications can do the rest while providing easy-to-use tools that meet the needs of each leader while creating end-user materials as well. This is what I recommend.

Particularly in times of great change, it is ok to ask individuals to flex. But it is not a good idea to burn people out which can happen if they have to spend too much time on activities they really do not like. The third option takes maximum advantage of everyone’s interests and strengths.

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Sarah E. Brown 2019