Leading Business Change – Feet First

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If you can’t explain it simply – you don’t understand it well enough.  So said Albert Einstein, and certainly his wise words hold true for me when leading change.  Today, I share a couple of my musings on the subject.

Firstly, ensure that you and your senior team thoroughly understand the rationale behind your proposed change and the impact it will have on your business before communicating it really clearly to employees.  Your people will be more likely to understand the need for transformation and support it.

Secondly, fully understand the likely impact on your people. Be under no illusion that their mood will impact customer experience.

No brainer

Including a business, customer and employee impact review in the planning is a no brainer! In my experience, the best-run programmes with the most successful outcomes are a direct result of thorough pre planning prior to the project start.

Feet first

When you are planning that initial change communication, the one that kicks off the transformation, take time to put yourself in the shoes of the employees who will be on the receiving end. What will be their fears? What will inspire them to support your plans? What information will they want to hear about the new structure? How will it change the culture? Will it impact their work life balance? What’s in it for them?

Reasons for change

Getting your reasons for change across to your employees is crucial when managing a transformation programme, and it is worth putting quite a lot of time and effort into ensuring the rationale for proposed adjustments is robust. Consider what needs to alter and why, who it will affect, the improvements that you expect and what would happen if you did not take action.


Use a variety of mediums to get your message across – remember that each and every one of your staff has a preference for receiving information. I worked recently with a group who had a clear preference for visual information and used colour, sound, pictures and video to convey messages.

Perhaps you can find out these inclinations in advance of the project kick off. I’ve used a simple learning styles questionnaire in the past to determine which employees are reflectors, activists, theorists and pragmatists to help understand how staff like to receive information and then reflected those preferences in the communication plan.

Kick jargon into touch

There is really nothing worse to be an employee on the end of some corporate speak, and it’s also a wonderful vehicle for those who object to the proposed change to poke fun at, so don’t go there.  I once remember a really lovely, well meaning, US based CEO talking to UK employees about “getting people on/off the bus” – a nod at Jim Collins perhaps?  It backfired. He didn’t realise that in the UK it conjured up an image of the 1970’s sitcom.  Endless jibes flowed…. “I’ll get you Butler” “Who’s Blakey?”  “Where’s Olive?”  “Ding, Ding.  Any more room inside?” etc.


Change takes time. It will not be rushed. Reiteration is a powerful method of embedding your missive, so think about the time frame over which you need your communication plan to run and carefully time individual messages. If you are hoping to change some embedded values or processes it will not be managed in a day, a week or even a month.  Consider a six-month plan – maybe longer.

They say that there are two types of business that will survive in this age.  Those that remove the need for people and those that engage with people.  

Not many companies physically fall into the former.  Only you as a leader can ensure that you are adept at surviving in the latter category.

Ruth Gawthorpe is the owner of The Change Directors.  She helps businesses to plan and execute complex change programmes. She would like to share her lessons learned with you.  Call her on 07976 509 551 for a chat about your transformation needs.

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