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Implementing strategic change – a communications challenge for leaders

Mark Birch

We are clearly in a period of significant change; to the way we work, shop and live our lives generally. In times of change it is vital for organisations to help their people to think and act differently to meet changes to ways of working and to deliver desired business goals.

However, helping employees understand and adapt to change is one of the largest challenges for the organisations we work with.

The reality is that most organisations woefully under-estimate the level of communication required during periods of change, typically by a factor of 10.

But simply increasing the volume of communications is not the key. The trick is to increase the level of engagement and to ensure communication is two-way and ongoing.

Unfortunately, traditional communication and learning approaches lack engagement and do not generate the levels of understanding or commitment required to make change happen.

You need an approach that focuses on helping employees at all levels to understand and buy-in to why change is happening, what is changing and, most importantly, what they need to do differently.

Critical to this is the role of leadership in communicating and implementing change. Nothing undermines a communication programme more than inconsistent actions by leaders, and nothing reinforces it more powerfully than leaders who back up their words with the appropriate behaviour. When senior management teams start behaving differently and embody the change they want to see, it sends a powerful message to the entire organisation – increasing motivation, inspiring confidence, and decreasing cynicism.

This message is particularly pertinent in retail where evidence shows a direct correlation between top performing stores and the quality of store leadership – those managers who are with their teams, in-store, every day.

But this presents a further challenge; managers often don’t have the capabilities, tools or (importantly), capacity, to fulfil that role well.

The sweet spot comes when retailers have consistently high levels of well-trained store managers across their fleet and a suite of high-quality communications and engagement tools to help them to effectively engage their teams in change – not as a one-off ‘fix’ but as a well-thought through strategic campaign.

So, what does that look like in practice? Here are a few examples of our work …

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