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What’s Your First Step in Successful Change Leadership?

by Duncan Ferguson on

A few months ago, a friend sent me a memo from his company’s new CEO. This memo was the CEO’s first opportunity to address the firm’s global employee workforce. The communication focused mostly on the challenges the organization was facing. It went on to highlight the looming internal changes required to meet these challenges, enabling the company “to make gains in performance, brand and results.”

I read the entire memo and then took my highlighter to mark the portions that spoke specifically to the potential organizational changes forthcoming; in other words, what was going to change because it was what the organization needed. When I was done, most of the document pulsated in fluorescent yellow. The memo concluded by stating that the CEO was relying on the ‘engagement of all’, yet there was little said about how this might affect each individual employee.

I got to thinking about this CEO communication recently while reading an INC. magazine online article entitled, “Want to Be a Great Leader? Do This One Thing First (Most Bosses Do the Opposite)” by Jeff Haden. In this article, an executive shared a leadership secret that is basic yet so very powerful in moving people in the right direction:

“Yeah, we’re in charge, and, yeah, we talk about targets and goals and visions, but our employees don’t care about any of that stuff for very long. We can communicate, engage, and connect all we want, but no one really listens to us. They just smile, nod, and go back to doing their jobs the way they always do. Our employees do not really care about what we want them to do until they know how much we care about them. When an employee knows–truly knows–that you care about them, then they care about you. And when they know you care, they will listen to you and they will do anything for you.”

Virtually all organizations these days are in the throes of change, and their leaders are responsible for driving it. Most leaders can artfully communicate the reasons for change from a company point of view. Costs are too high. Market share needs to increase. Results must improve. The organization has too many layers. New competitors are entering the marketplace. Creativity and innovation are vital. The expectations of stockholders must be met.

A well-balanced message will focus on both the needs of the organization and the individual.

All too often, however, leaders do not make the message personal, missing an important opportunity to create a connection with employees that is critical to truly engaging everyone in making change happen.

People typically are not going to be motivated to change if the reason is based solely on helping the organization achieve its needs. They want to know why it should matter to them. Successful change leadership starts with the ability of senior leaders to communicate a message that is clear, concise and balanced. It is this last component – balance – that all too often falls short in executive communication about change. A well-balanced message will focus on both the needs of the organization and the individual.

In other words, make sure to address the question that is everyone’s mind:  ‘What’s in it for Me?’