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Communicating through change

In successfully managing a change, steps 1 through 3 are usually "communication, communication, communication." The key is to provide a vision for what the change will deliver, and set an expectation for the general steps required to reach that vision. Even if your change isn't really a "change" per se, just a transition, it's still important to communicate openly about goals, so that everyone has an opportunity to participate and knows what will be expected of them.

Here's an example my work group discussed as part of the IT Leaders Program, a few years ago. We did this as part of a special presentation in the style of a news discussion show, and I'll preserve that format here:

To start, we have Emperor Palpatine, supreme leader of the Galactic Empire. His style is very top-down, but also not very inclined towards making major changes in management structure.


But what's that? We have breaking news from the forest moon of Endor:

"As you know, Emperor Palpatine visited today the new peacetime orbital platform: the Digitally Enhanced Array, Troop Habitation, Satellite Transmitter And Receiver. Also known by its initials: DEATHSTAR. We have received word that Emperor Palpatine suffered some kind of industrial accident while touring DEATHSTAR, and Palpatine was killed. Power has now defaulted to the second in command, Darth Vader, who is also aboard DEATHSTAR."


Back to the discussion. Vader now has a difficult job, to transition leadership of the Galactic Empire. Our discussion panel provided some guidance:

We might expect Vader's management style to be very similar to Palpatine's, so maybe no changes are forthcoming. In this case, Vader still needs to meet with his teams, and communicate to "stay the course", nothing should change. By doing this, Vader sets an expectation that everyone understands. His areas can get behind the idea, and will generally support the transition.


But wait. We have another update from our reporter on the forest moon of Endor:

"We have received further news at this time. Darth Vader has been killed, and DEATHSTAR has been destroyed, by the Rebel terrorist leader Luke Skywalker."


"Not much is known about Skywalker. He was raised in isolation on the desert planet Tatooine, and trained by the reclusive Yoda - a small green Jedi, about whom even less is known."

Kermit-the-frog.jpg(artist's impression, no official photo of Yoda exists)

Back to the discussion. Skywalker has an even harder transition ahead of him, moreso than Vader's. Again, our discussion panel gave some advice about managing this change:

It's safe to assume that Skywalker will want to bring the Empire in a new direction. So his first task should be to meet with the senior leadership and explain his vision. What are his major priorities and goals for the first 100 days? What are the broad themes?

Skywalker might consider leading a "SWOT" exercise with the senior leadership, to identify the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats for the transition. Understand the current state, how this compares to Skywalker's desired "end state", and the talent needed to get him there.

Ultimately, it all comes down to "communication, communication, communication." Get the ideas out there, and do it early, so that everyone understands what is happening, and what will be expected of them.

Photo credits: SarahMcD, Wookieepedia, Wookieepedia, Wookieepedia, Muppet Wiki