Click here for this episode’s show notes.
This transcript was created using an automated transcription service and may contain errors.
The more leaders work on the front end to craft the message in a way that it’s receivable, the less time they have to spend on the back end trying to get everybody to calm down and cooperate.
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. Joining me is my co-host JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, a professional network that I’m part of.
Today’s topic is change management communication. We had had lots of good feedback from an earlier episode that we did entitled “Championing Change Management” that launched May 24, 2021. Listeners have asked us to go deeper on the communication needs in times of change and share some practical ideas to increase the likelihood of executing change successfully. Today we’ve invited a guest and friend, Whitney Bandemer. Whitney is Owner and Principal Consultant at WB Consulting LLC, where she helps organizations with strategy around leading people, learning and development, and project management. She’s an accomplished executive with an extensive background in leading diverse and complex teams, projects, and programs. A lawyer by trade, Whitney spent over 15 years as a higher ed executive who has led many challenging change efforts herself and now consults with companies on how to drive and communicate change for optimal results. Welcome, Whitney. We’re so glad you’re here.
I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Whitney, McKinsey and Company says that 70% of all change initiatives fail. Where do you think change management processes miss the mark?
I think that they can miss the mark in a lot of places, but I think if you drill down in those areas, what you’ll find is that there has been poorly planned, poorly executed, or no communication at all to lead and guide the stakeholders through that change. Maybe the… the root cause of that communication failure was not engaging stakeholders in developing a change vision. Maybe it wasn’t communicating really realizable benefits to stakeholders. Or worse, maybe it was that the leaders came in with a plan and only gave input as a courtesy, sending the message to stakeholders that “We’ve already made the decision, but we’ll let you talk.” That happens so often, and leaders don’t think employees have figured it out. Well, they’ve figured it out. They know when you’re asking just to check a box. And that often starts the change process on a bad footing, and then the communication just doesn’t get better from there and people disengage, people resist, or people openly become obstacles.
Yikes. Yikes. So Whitney, can you walk us through maybe the key components of good change management communication? If we’re doing it right, what do we do?
I think if you’re doing it right, you’re listening with empathy. You’re starting out knowing your audience and knowing how to engage with that specific audience in a way that they’re able to hear you. That you’re thinking of their experience and understanding that when you come at someone with a potential change that threatens their job, they’re going to respond in a potentially fearful way, which can result in a negative ultimate response or a positive one, so you want to make sure you’re listening with empathy and preparing for the potential responses of your stakeholders. Having a clear plan that’s results-oriented and not activity-oriented. Your plan should be clear and simple to explain. The third thing I think is the most important is to be transparent about the why. So many times leaders say, “Oh, well, we’re not going to share this information because employees won’t understand it.” “Oh, we don’t know… we don’t need to go into the financials because employees won’t understand it.” Well, if they don’t understand it, then use that as a professional development opportunity and teach them about how your business works, which will make them better employees and better ambassadors. But taking that patriarchal approach to sharing information makes employees feel disrespected, and it undermines trust with leadership because employees don’t feel as though leadership trusts them with information, and so why should employees trust leadership? So, explaining the why, being transparent about it, and being courageous enough to answer the hard questions that follow with vulnerability. “Hey, our numbers aren’t good, and this is why we need this change, and this is the benefit that you’re going to see from it.” So being prepared to make those connections, being able to draw a line from your communication in the beginning to the realizable benefit to the stakeholder in the end, I think are three critical components to listening with empathy, having a clear plan, and then being transparent about the why.
Such good advice, Whitney, and I know I personally have failed with that – explaining the why – many times in the past, and not so much because I – although I like your word “disrespected,” – my intention, at least for me, was not that I disrespected it… them, but it was that I would forget that they didn’t know the why. You know, maybe it was something I had been working on or thinking about or seeing problems with or knew why we needed a new process or a new software. But I would forget to tell people that at the beginning. To me, it was like, “Hey, we’re getting a new process, we’re getting new software, we have a new approach.” And they’d be like, “Why?” And I’d be like, “You don’t know?”
You know, I liken it to… I teach a master’s level class in change management at Ball State University, and with my students, I liken that exact issue to a breakup. So the person who’s doing the dumping has already processed the information, right? They’re ready. They’ve got their script down. They know how they’re going to answer the questions, and they’re calm, and they’ve already gone through the emotional process of that change. But the person being dumped just heard the news, and then they react emotionally. And I think sometimes as leaders, we don’t plan for the fact that these folks just heard this and we’ve had months to think about it. And I think that’s normal. And I think it just takes that extra step of planning and creating clear and simple explanations and FAQs for your change process.
And I just have to say, as a former dumpee, the old, “it’s not you, it’s me” just doesn’t fly when you’re having an emotional reaction. It just doesn’t, alright?
Fair enough. Fair enough.
Talk about showing vulnerability. She was a former dumpee.
There you go, yeah.
And Whitney, what does brain science have to do with change management?
So if you go back to listening with empathy and knowing your audience, you have to think about communicating in a way where people can hear you. And I know you both of you guys have been involved in termination processes, and so for instance, you know, when you terminate an employee, after you tell them what’s happening, basically everything after that, you might as well write down because they’re not going to remember any of it, right?
Communication about change is the same way. Because if you think about Maslow’s hierarchy, the two thickest pieces of that triangle, the bottom bases, are all about basic needs and security. We rely on our jobs for basic needs and our security. And in every situation in life, our… our brains, which are fabulous machines, ask two questions. They see a situation, they scan the environment, and they’re always asking, “Is this safe?” and “Have I seen this before?”. And when you get the call from the boss, or you’re in the big meeting and they say, “This is a new idea, and it’s going to affect your department,” our brain says, “This isn’t safe. I’ve seen this before.” And we go into fight, flight, or freeze, and we shut down. And so leaders who are sharing communication, particularly transformative communication, communication that involves restructuring, where people’s job’s description or reporting hierarchy will change, have to come at those communication processes keeping in mind that people’s first reaction is going to be emotional. And don’t put the person in charge of the change initiative who openly says “I’m not an empathetic person.”
JoDee, there’s no… no more for you. You cannot do any leading any change efforts.
Do you say that about yourself, JoDee?
That I can’t do them?
No, that you’re not high in empathy.
Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I… I struggle with empathy.
And that… that’s a hard place to be for a change leader, because people’s first… first response is going to be emotional, and so if you haven’t taken a lot of runway on the front end to prepare people, to create a safe environment where they know they can have that emotional response without judgment, criticism, or consequences, then if that doesn’t exist, you’re creating an environment where people’s responses could shut down your change initiative. Right? So keeping in mind, when I share this information, how can I share it where people won’t flip out?
That’s really smart. And actually, JoDee does a very good job at flexing her style. Empathy – although for StrengthsFinder, it’s really low for her, she knows when to flex it. So I have no doubt, JoDee, you can keep doing change.
Yeah, but that is, like… Whitney, the way you just asked that question, like, that’s the question that I have to think about it in terms of, you know, if I think, like, “do this with empathy,” I might be like, “oh, gosh, well, I don’t know how to do it,” but if I just think very strategically, and what do I have to say that won’t make them flip out? Right?
That’s very practical.
Then I’m like, “Okay, I can.” Yes, I’m practical, just not naturally empathetic.
And you know, that’s fine, as long as you can put it in that gear and go from there. Because the more leaders work on the front end to craft the message in a way that it’s receivable, the less time they have to spend on the back end trying to get everybody to calm down and cooperate. Because that’s where those change initiatives crash.
That makes sense. So one of the things that we’ve always heard is that make sure you’re communicating with all the stakeholders, everybody who needs to know. So Whitney, how do you know that you’re communicating with the right people during times of change?
That’s a hard question. I think it’s it’s not as simple as it seems, because lots of organizations are very collaborative. There’s a lot of crossover, and sometimes there’s crossover at the front lines that the executive level doesn’t know about, and so understanding that it’s hard to make truly siloed change in any organization. So I think you start by being as inclusive as possible, carefully sitting down and cataloging, who will this change primarily impact? And then investigate the ripples. So how significant are the ripples from that core group? And then at the end of the day, send out an invite and invite everybody. Like, from a practical perspective, if you want to come, come. Because we should be able to be transparent. There is very little we can’t share once we’ve developed a plan and we have a process and we know we need to change. Why wouldn’t you want everybody’s input? You don’t have to take it.
Right? You don’t have to listen to every single thing you get. But why wouldn’t you invite people to the table in your own organization?
And Whitney, as you talk about this communication, how can HR specifically or people experience teams help with this organizational communication?
I think that you can really get a lot of benefit by engaging people experience and HR teams as thought leaders and partners in this space, because they often know more about the inner workings of departments. They know employees often better than top management does, and they can help to uncover potential landmines in communication and resistance. And that social science and brain science part, because many of us in the HR space have training in that area and they can help both executives and the communications team craft messaging that will meet the needs of the population because they… they truly know them better than anybody else.
Yeah. I love it.
And Whitney, how can our listeners reach out to you if they wanted to continue this discussion or maybe get some help on a change effort that they’re wrestling with?
Well, I would love that. And they can email me at Whitney at WB consulting llc dot com. Or they can check out the website, same address www dot WB Consulting llc dot com. Or they can find me on LinkedIn, where my marketing guy says I have to post every day, so I post every day, rain or shine. I’m on LinkedIn, Whitney Bandemer.
I follow you and I’m always interested to see what you’re gonna say every day.
Well, and as always, we’ll include those in our show notes, so if people listening didn’t catch all of that you can… you can find them in our show notes. But before you go, Whitney, we always like to ask all of our guests a JoyPowered® workspace related question, so what was your last JoyPowered moment at work?
I think that the last JoyPowered® moment was, again, this class I’m teaching. I only teach one class, I don’t do this much anymore. I used to be a professor as part of my full-time job, but this is just a one-off adjunct gig. But I had a student who reached out and said that I was a breath of fresh air because of my vulnerability in… in the video lectures. And she… she liked this because I stopped a lecture to take a phone call from my husband about who was picking my three year old up from daycare. And I just… I just said it in the… in the video. I’m like, “I have to put this on pause because I have to take this phone call.” And it was just really joyful for me, because it’s a kind compliment, but also, you know, there’s a constant commentary about how people should… should or shouldn’t behave at work, particularly women, and it… you know, it often pays just to be yourself and I was being myself in that moment. And, you know, this very sweet student who’s… who’s an adult student and has a career and life of her own, so I felt it was more like a peer to peer comment, recognized that I was just being myself and, you know, what was Dr. Seuss’s…? Because, you know, the people who matter won’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter. So.
Good old Dr. Seuss.
Thank you for sharing that with us, but also, really so powerful for the student to make that effort to… to give you that feedback as well.
Absolutely. Totally unsolicited. Yeah.
I love it.
Well, Whitney, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it and wish you the best.
Thanks so much. I appreciate the opportunity.
Now a word from our sponsors.
As our listeners have probably heard many times, I’m a CliftonStrengths enthusiast, and I know you’re a fan of strengths also, Susan.
That’s right. I know you’ve been working on a strengths certification program with some of our friends at Powered by Purple Ink. JoDee, why don’t you tell our listeners a little about the program?
Yes, I’d love to, because I’m so excited about this program. It’s called Power Up Your Strengths, and it was designed to help people become better equipped to bring out the talents of others. Inspired by the CliftonStrengths® Assessment, you’ll finish the program ready to help people do what they do best, and you’ll enjoy doing it yourself.
It sounds like a wonderful program, and the participants will benefit from the guidance of several strength experts – JoDee and her partners. JoDee, how is Power Up Your Strengths formatted and where will it be located?
Well, it’s 100% virtual, so anyone can join us from anywhere. We’ll have some live sessions over Zoom, and in between the sessions, there will be some prework and practice for participants to complete through our online platform. It will be packed with information and experiences you’ll need to be a strength champion, trainer, or coach.
If you’d like to learn more about Power Up Your Strengths, visit Powered by Purple Ink – with a k – dot com slash strengths.
Susan, we have a listener question today. And they said, “I’ve joined a new company and their practice when a person is terminated is for the person’s manager to pack up their personal belongings and ship it to them. This feels yucky to me as I would want the opportunity to pack up and take my own things and not sure I want my manager rifling through it. What’s your advice on this?”
Well, as we’ve said many times, JoDee and I are not lawyers, so if there’s any laws specific to this, we’d love to hear from any lawyers that are listening, but we don’t think there are, so please correct us if we’re wrong. In cases of an immediate involuntary termination, my preference is to arrange a time where the individual can, in as much privacy as you can give them, allow them to pick up their personal belongings. And I have worked with companies who do this all different ways. Some absolutely say no, once we’ve involuntary termed someone they are not getting back into the workplace, I won’t let them go back to their desk. I just think that it comes across as so harsh. And if… and I have seen this happen, where people say I had money sitting in my cubicle, I had my very favorite grandmother’s such and such that was there, it was not shipped to me, or we made them come back to the loading dock and we gave them their boxes, and they… it just was… it’s been really cold and harsh. So given a choice, I would say, okay, maybe I can’t let you go back in there now and do it in front of everyone, because it could be awkward for you and awkward for us. Let’s do it tonight. I’ll meet you at six o’clock here, we’ll go in there together, let you get what you want. I just feel like I want to treat people with as much dignity and respect as I can, even though they can’t work here anymore. I just… I wanted to make it as graceful as possible. How about you, JoDee? I’m sure you’ve seen it done all different ways as well.
I have and it just is tough. And it’s hard even to have a hard and fast rule when sometimes the reasons for the terminations are different, you know, and you’re more worried than not, but I just 100% agree when you can give them the dignity to… to pack up privately. I, too, have been in organizations where we let people go to their desk and pack up, but then I had to stand next to them watching them, and they were surrounded by people all around them, which was horrifying as well, so… and awkward for me as the… it’s not the… it’s not about me in that situation, it’s about the person, but it just is awkward for everyone involved. So.
Yeah, I loved our listener’s word. It can feel very yucky. Now, I… and I would just say I have no problem at all, when you involuntarily term, shutting down all access to computers and files and all that. That can be done without anybody else seeing it, and it is the appropriate thing to do. But the personal belongings, I just… where we can let them pick it up and pack it, that would be my druthers. So anyway, thanks for the question. Hey, it’s time for in the news. Moneytransfers.com conducted a survey regarding attitudes towards freelancing in the United States, which they published September 14, 2022. Let’s share some of those key findings, JoDee.
More than four in 10 full-time workers are considering becoming freelancers.
52% of those considering becoming a freelancer are millennials and Gen Z employees.
Probably no surprise there. It is expected that freelance work will make up more than half of the US workforce, which is 86.5 million people, by 2027.
43% of full time employees say they envy the perceived freedom of freelancers.
44% of freelancers make more money than they did in traditional employment.
As a person who worked in traditional employment for decades, and now I really do consider myself a, you know, independent consultant or freelancer, I sure have so much more fun doing this, and I don’t know… I love being the boss of me. So I sort of feel like that’s the trend.
Yeah, I get it. You just got to be careful, for those who are wanting to go that route, to remember benefits and payroll taxes and some of the other things you might be missing if you go that route.
Very, very true.
Well, thanks for joining us today and make it a JoyPowered® day.
Thank you. If you would like SHRM recertification credit for listening to this podcast, please visit getjoypowered.com/shrm. You’ll find an evaluation of the podcast and once you complete the evaluation, you will see the SHRM recertification credit code and a link to a proof of participation certificate. Again, that’s getjoypowered.com/shrm. Thank you for listening and thanks for your dedication to the HR profession.
If you liked the show, please tell your friends about it and let us know what you think by rating and reviewing us on Apple Podcasts.
You can learn more about JoyPowered® at getjoypowered.com. Check out The JoyPowered® Shop, where you can order our books, journals, and other items that power our joy, at getjoypowered.com/shop. We’re @JoyPowered on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter, and you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope you tune in next time. Make it a JoyPowered® day.