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Business culture – part 4

Part 4 is a continuation on the discussion of the four steps toward cultural change:

  • Establish credibility
  • Gain trust
  • Communicate universally
  • Act decisively

Communication – at a point in the process you will need to present to the whole group your message but at the beginning, when you are going through the stages, be very careful to ensure that your message is clear and consistent with everyone.

Act – what you communicate is dependent on the research you have conducted and your subsequent conclusions, the format is dependent upon the information you will present and how your audience will best receive it. What is absolutely crucial is that you act upon those conclusions and do it decisively; hesitation, or the perception of it, will be disproportionately magnified at this stage.

Let’s look at the above in more detail and with some examples:

Communication is vital at this stage of your (new) tenure within the business. In the course of my career, I have practiced what I have subsequently preached, over communicate at this stage of the process. Bombard people with newsletters, group emails, notices and regular meetings to ensure that they know, implicitly, what is happening and what is expected of them, that way you will spend less time explaining why and more time outlining what, as it’s vital to create forward momentum.

Before going further; an important point. Over thinking your message and how you convey it at this stage is a good thing; it must make sense, be unconvoluted and be sincere. Many people will be seeing you for the first time, so practice your presentation skills, if you don’t believe in what you are saying, people will know immediately. Also, if your new assignment is a foreign one and the native language is not your first language, choose your words carefully and sparingly, simple text that accompanies pictorial references work best in first meetings.

As a starting point for your primary message, I advocate companywide meetings (often referred to as town hall meetings in US companies); a meeting where you are speaking to all of the people with the same message (shift working patterns can make this difficult so be prepared for an early morning/late evening and remember, people are tired and less alert after their shift, so give the message before the shift starts). Communicating on such a broad scale addresses the key issue of consistency, everyone is hearing (and seeing) the same message, there is little room for misinterpretation from your audience and this information, whatever it may be, can be used as the reference point for future review.

Be cognizant of the fact that there is nothing more powerful than a mixed message or miscommunication to undo all the work you’ve put into credibility and trust, these can propagate one of your greatest enemies; rumour. Be prepared for rumour and deal with it as soon as you can. To negate rumour, make a point of stating in your companywide meeting “any information that you haven’t received from me directly or via official channels is probably not a fact so, question the person telling you and if in doubt, come and ask me”. That effectively stops the rumour mongers before they start and readily identifies them if they try to start. Be clear, be consistent.

Invariably, your content will need to address the current state of the business, if you’ve concluded that change is required, then it’s fair to assume that not all is right with the business as it is. You will need to communicate an opinion that some might not agree with, so ensure that you have solid justification for this opinion, before moving on to how you propose to fix it.

In my last assignment I communicated to a site of 450+ people that they really weren’t anywhere near good as they thought they were. Here was a relatively large group of people, gathered before a new site lead who is telling them that their self-perception was very different from reality. This may seem to be a risky path to take but the message was true; I certainly had a captive, if somewhat rankled, audience so, using basic psychology and impact to justify my point, I was able to reach beyond the negative and provide a positive narrative. The arguments to back up my opinion were strong.

The site wasn’t where it should have been from a safety standpoint, although the site seemed to think that they had a good safety record. It wasn’t difficult to photograph hazards and safety infringements that created daily risks at the site, so I used these pictures from all areas of the site to illustrate the risks posed to their safety. Secondly, I focussed on job security; I knew that the recent performance output was having a negative impact on the business; I presented performance data that showed the poor operational numbers and explained what impact that could have, long term. Customer confidence was waning and business was in jeopardy. The mood changed quickly, from hostility to (reluctant) acceptance, the information being presented to them was irrefutable.

Everyone knew that I was there to improve the site performance but prior to presenting the safety and performance numbers, only a limited number of people knew the reality of the situation; now this information was public, everyone had become accountable and responsible for change (or conversely, the unspoken inevitable). Using pictures and data to prove that this wasn’t just my opinion helped to change behaviours and beliefs, the culture,to improve each area of deficiency. Now we were in this together with me as the catalyst for change.

And now the fourth step in the change process; act. I have been a victim of my own overreaching ambitions in the past, people have come up to me, a month or so after my communication presentation and have tasked me with the question,

“what about xyz?….You told us this would happen”.

Failure to act will lose you support very rapidly; you need to have credibility, to be trusted with your plan and to have communicated that effectively but there’s little point in going through all that hard work and then not following through on your commitments to change.

My advice would be; keep your message simple and follow the management maxim of SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed)

Obviously, you can’t, nor should you, do everything yourself (delegation will be the subject of another post) so your preparation and subsequent communication must contain clear objectives and responsibilities. These should be agreed beforehand, by the time you’ve reached this point your team should be fully aware of the plan and how they fit into it, the plan should have already been documented and ideally sections of that plan implemented, everyone needs to understand that you are serious. Remember….don’t lose that hard earned trust.

A method that applies both to communication and the process of decisive action is the continuation and development of the first companywide meeting. At that first presentation you outlined your conclusions; what you were going to and how you (collectively) were going to do it; by extending this into regular, monthly communication meetings you effectively broaden the purpose of that original meeting to encompass a range of functions. Your communications meetings will now serve as the portal to provide evidence of actions undertaken against the plan, they will serve as a motivational tool by giving you an opportunity to highlight outstanding achievements or individuals, they will encourage involvement when you invite others to present and they will ensure that you keep yourself on schedule.

As I did my research for this last piece of the series, I happened upon the presentation for my third communications meeting from an assignment that I undertook a few years ago, without giving away any details, here’s the headline to the slide:

“Very often changes happen so quickly that we forget the improvements that we have created. Below is a list of some of the events and changes that have taken place over the last 8 weeks that will help create sustainable improvements to the business”

I cannot stress enough just how important it is to communicate the changes that have taken place, even over a short period of time. If you have done all the preparation work then the process will happen quickly, don’t let your colleagues and team members forget the great work that they have done, keep that momentum going and continue to lead the way forward.

This post on business culture is spread over 4 posts. Along the way I have gone through numerous drafts and edits, in doing so I have left out many anecdotes and relevant stories. If, after reading the series, you would like to discuss further then please feel free to contact me.

© Andy Collinsson 2020

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