The APQC Blog

Want Change Management That Works? Have a Clear Simple Message

I know I am not Steve Jobs. But I am a pretty good version of myself. According to Nick Tasler, change management consultant and keynote speaker at APQC's upcoming 2015 Process Conference, that might be ok.

In a recent interview, Nick shared with me that we don’t have to be charismatic to be a good change agent. We can be better psychologists instead.

Carla: Nick, how can recent findings in psychology help us to change?

Nick: The most exciting discovery is that you don't have to be a high level executive oozing with charisma in order to inspire change in your team or your organization.  We are all capable of inspiring change in our peers and our teams by understanding the simple mechanics of the way human brains make sense of the world around them – and then subtly disrupting it.  

Carla:  When you were researching your book, Domino, what were some leadership skills that inspired smart strategies and adaptive teams that surprised you?

Nick: The most surprising discovery for me was which leadership skills were NOT necessary to inspire positive change and adaptation – primarily charisma.  Paradoxically, to inspire change, leaders don't need to be "inspirational"; they just need to make decisions. They do need to stimulate people to shift their attention, but that doesn't require lofty speeches and dynamic personalities.  For a person like me who is often branded as an "inspirational speaker" it was kind of a tough pill to swallow.

When you research a book like this you're always secretly hoping that you'll discover that you possess the secret ingredients for greatness. In this case, what I discovered is that being inspirational simply wasn't necessary for change leaders. 

Secondly, the best practice of "over-communication" is an incredibly poor substitute for the leadership skill of clear communication. By clear, I mean explicitly defining what the change does and does not mean.  What we're going to do and what we're going to kill or delay.

Without clearly defining what we're NOT going to do anymore as a result of the change, over-communication just becomes noise. Over-communicating a fuzzy plan doesn’t make the plan any less fuzzy. 

It turns out that leaders who pride themselves on being inspirational or visionary aren't good at adapting to change, because their messages aren't clear enough.  In attempts to inspire people to "buy-in," these leaders mistakenly over-communicate a lofty vision for the change. The key to stimulating others to change is to disrupt their existing mental models, and then provide a crystal clear description of the alternative.     

Join me at the APQC 2015 Process Conference to hear Nick share more about how we can use findings in psychology to overcome our organizational (and human) frailties and make things better.

Subscribe to the Big Thinkers, Big Ideas podcast on Itunes or on APQCPodcasts on Podbean.

You can connect with me on Twitter @odell_carla