Monday, July 29, 2013

Kotter Change Communication Gap

Kotter Enhancement
Stage 4

Communication Errors
In Leading Change, Kotter states that Error #4 is "under-communicating the vision by a factor of 10."  He unpacks this error in three parts:
1.  Tops volume of communication is low
2.  Middles volume of communication is low
3.  Some Tops/Middles do not walk the talk

The first two problems are, in fact, accurate.  Leaders have been burned enough by negative reactions that they shy away from communication for fear of being criticized for being unclear.  Nobody likes being put on the spot for saying one thing before, and something different now.  Not surprisingly, top leaders and middle managers often communicate the minimum.

The fundamental problem with Kotter's stage 4 is the mindset it reinforces.  The following graphic depicts how leaders view their followers:
People are simply vessels that leaders need to fill.  Kotter's oversimplification here is that if leader's only provided more communication, things would improve.  However, when top leaders provide more communication, it does not cascade down the same way (i.e. telephone game communication problems).

Kotter came up with communication mistake #2 ...Middle's don't provide enough communication.  The problem here is that when change initiatives where Tops and Middles provide a high volume of communication, people still complained that communication was poor.

Communicating Ideal vs. Real
In response, Kotter reasoned that the real problem was that leaders behavior was inconsistent with what they had communicated.  Again, this is true.  A misaligned leadership team communicates one things, then has several leaders who are not in agreement not following through on the change.  They either keep the status quo going or change in their own way.

Two-Way Communication
The enhancement for Stage 4 is ...

Communicate the change vision interactively

The following graphic describes the drive behind all the individuals in your organization.  If I'm a frontline contributor, three perspectives top any organizational change initiative:

1.  Mine
2.  Yours
3.  Theirs

Mine means "me, the employee."  You means "my immediate manager."  Them is "upper management."

For the past 20 years, corporate communication specialists have tried as hard as they can to tailor the message to the frontline employees. Unfortunately, this violates the Platinum Rule of Organizational Change:
Change is a threat when done to me,
but an opportunity when done by me.

Complain, Complain, Complain
Managers often say, "but when I get everyone together to hear their perspective, it devolves into a complaint session." This brings us back to the Golden Rule of Organizational Change:

If you're not getting the response you need,
change the stimulus. (YOU)

In the communication context, this means "ask better questions" and/or structure your meetings to move beyond the complaints to a constructive place.


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