Communications & Leadership of Change


by M.  Anthony Sacco

Communications & Change Leadership



Although communications is a key to the organizational change process, it is not enough simply by basic communication to successfully execute organizational change. Communications within the change process must incorporate a breadth and depth of communication techniques. It must have as well be constructed with continuity and consistency. In order to create the kind of communication needed to support change, actions must be taken to make sure it reaches the right people, make a connection with leadership, and follow up with the actions needed to complete successful change. This means that in addition to communication there must be planning, strategic effort, and engagement of the entire organization in the change process.

Separation from negative influence – human resources decisions:

Koenigsaecker (2000) shows in the example of Toyota that, at the given moment an organization finds that change is needed, the status of its human resources will exhibit roughly 5% that are positively inclined toward the change objective, 5% resistant, and 90% who are looking for leadership to provide direction. Both the positively and the negatively inclined contingents have opportunity to provide leadership. Communication of the need for change and the state of urgency (Kotter, 1996) is a necessary first action toward providing that leadership. But, in addition, there is the need to separate and disassociate the negative influence from the group in order to reduce the possibility that they are perceived as the stronger leadership model (Koenigsaecker, 2000). This action of determining the negative element and separating it goes beyond the program of communication. Careful communication will then play an important remedial role in facilitating the acceptance by the group of the separation action taken.

Crafting a Perspective – framing before communicating:

Communication is not a one dimensional process. Argyris (2002) provides that in order for change leadership to create successful change the communication techniques used must be carefully structured. Not just communication, but well-crafted communication is needed. The communication of the change initiative should eliminate the appearance (or actuality) that the change is based upon self serving objectives. Rather, in order to be effective, facts and problem solving should be part of the associated communication to the broader organization. In addition, the leadership and champions of the change initiative must communicate with their actions that change, and in particular this proposed change, is in the best interest of the entire organization (Black & Gregersen, 2000, 154-163).

Vision – the result of strategic knowledge:

Before change can be communicated it must be envisioned. It is in such a way that it is tied to and gains basis in the organizational core values (Collins & Porras, 1996). By developing a vision that incorporates the long-term success of the firm and its core values the change leadership element is enhanced. This enhancement occurs as the new actions and goals of change become more deeply accepted by the broader group because they already accepted and believe in its basic core values. The long-term success of the firm then is perceived to be in everyone’s best interest, although, in fact, there may be some who do not find themselves actually in a better position when the change has been completed. So, before broader communication can become a positive force leaders must tie it through their words, actions, and symbolically to a vision of the future that can be accepted (Black & Gregersen, 2000, 124-126).

Dwevedi (2006) suggests to us another visionary quality that can enhance communications but is tied to personal power and character. The trait he reports, as an observed significant factor in a major innovative project environment, is spirituality. Akin to vision, spirituality speaks to the ability for core values (Collins & Porras, 1996) and a selfless approach (Argyris, 2002) enhancing communications and the associated change process.

Planning and Preparation – so communication can have the desired effect:

Fisher (2005) emphasizes that concept of time as an element of the change leadership planning process. Once again, this concept of time is embedded in the structuring of the vision, before the communication, as it is being suggested. To engage the broader organization in the change process, Fisher highlights the need to include the past organizational history, the present situation the change will address, and post-change future in the vision and communication. By tying the change initiative to past successes and failures it becomes more meaningful and acceptable. Through the use of executive coaching, to clearly communicate the analysis of the present state of the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) (Amenakis & Harris, 2002), the case for change becomes a more acceptable concept. Through the development of a clear vision of the future, post-change, destination to be reached (Black & Gregersen, 2000, 154) the subsequent communication(s) of that change provides for continuity and contains elements that speak to its completion. Without a clear statement of destination the clarity of organizational communication to the broader group would be lacking.

Actions to Create Empowerment – so the right people can act in the right way:

Das Gupta and Kurian (2006), while they discuss the importance of communication in the empowerment of those who are participants in the change process, provide us with some additional change leadership elements beyond communications. Communication of the need for change must be accompanied by the sharing of related information resources. Such related information sharing can be incorporated in the envisioning, problem-solving, and ultimate measurement of the success of the change initiative by those leading, managing, and actualizing on the front lines. This empowerment then facilitates collaboration, cooperation, and a continuity of commitment (Hornstein & Ravenscroft, 2007) that goes beyond communication to the creation of work methods and cultural adaptations supportive of the intended change. By contrast, if empowerment is not consistent and does not distribute uniformly throughout those involved in the change initiative it will have a high likelihood of failure (Hornstein, 2006). Expanding upon the need for empowerment, Clegg and Walsh (2004) add that the development of positive relationships among those who are affected by the change initiative becomes another enhancement to the success of change. They point us toward the elements of trust among the members of the group as one critical element important to the change process. Additionally, they emphasize the crafting of an appropriate plan for change and then creating complete clarity of the appropriateness of the initiative. This clarity and appropriateness become a basis for trust and accountability in the change process. Communications then can be more easily accepted because of the established trust relationship. Clegg and Walsh (2004) characterize communication that occurs within the empowered group as providing assistance from the high trust and clarity which makes the process more of a “listening’” than it is a “telling”.

Creation of a Coalition – Communication with the appropriate people:

There is a process that must precede the onset of a change initiative and one that is more of an organizational dynamic than it is a part of the change initiative. That key process is the formation and maintenance of a coalition from which to exert influence (Kotter, 1996, Chap 4) to propel change. Certainly it is possible to envision the need for change, and then to form a coalition from which to begin to attack it. But, even more basic is the need to have formed alliances from within which to operate when needed. This change coalition requires participants in positions of power as well as those who are highly skilled and have detailed or special knowledge for the organization. A relationship with a broad and deep organizational coalition takes time and requires maintenance but when the time comes it is the platform from which change is initiated.

Conclusion – it takes communication and more:

A successful change initiative requires planning, management, communications, leadership, and strategic actions to have any chance of success. Communications is a key element, is connected to most of the elements of change, and is certainly a key element from beginning to end. It is important to remember communication when the time to report success or failure of the change initiative comes and, of course, one hopes the communication will be a celebratory, “mission accomplished”. Management icon Tom Peters gives us the following quote about leadership, unleashing talent, communications, and going beyond simply communicating to empowerment and action:

If the “talent thing” is all-important … then … TALENT … MUST BE ABLE TO APPLY ITSELF TO THE TASK AT HAND. Which means that every iota of Bureaucratic B. S. that keeps “ordinary people” from talking to ordinary “ordinary people” throughout the entire “supply chain” … TO GET THINGS DONE FAST THROUGHOUT THE SYSTEM-AS-A-WHOLE … must be eradicated. (Peters, 2005, p.134)

This author would suggest Peters’ words about leadership apply directly to the challenge of change leadership.


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