Leading Change: Just Like Storytelling, Effectiveness Is in the Details

In Monday’s Wall Street Journal, “The Journal Report” focused on hot topics in management, such as how to lead change successfully. In an article by Mitchell Lee Marks, PhD, associate professor of management at San Francisco State University’s College of Business, one of the key points is that details matter. The same is true of storytelling, which is at the core of leadership communication, particularly in critical times, such as workforce reductions, changes in direction, mergers and acquisitions.

One of the crucial details that is often overlooked is the need to allow time “on the clock” for employees to grieve what was. It’s amazing that leaders usually forget that their people are, uh, human (!) and that they have strong emotions about their work environment. When people aren’t allowed to vent deeply felt emotions to an understanding manager, those feelings will block the company’s ability to move ahead as surely as if the Great Wall of China suddenly appeared and kept everyone from getting to their offices or workstations.

In one case, a client company had studiously avoided the emotional toll that a merger had taken on their professional workforce–even though the emotions were palpable seven years after the merger had occurred!! The problem was positive in its origins: the professionals were proud of their former company’s brand reputation, and they were convinced that their new colleagues couldn’t possibly share their level of commitment to superb quality.

Are you providing your workforce the opportunity to express feelings about major changes before expecting them to embrace the new way of doing business? Are you sharing stories about your own experiences of dealing with change and how you overcame your own resistance? What difference did you see in your team’s response when you gave them a chance to express their feelings?        

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