Before you can influence people, you need to get their attention. If you are leading a change initiative, one of your biggest challenges is the high-stimulus environment everyone lives and works in.
People’s heads are already filled with concerns (How will I meet this deadline for my boss? I wonder if my son is going to stay home from school today. My email inbox is overflowing and I know there are important people in there.). On top of that the rest of the world is constantly bombarding them (Buy a Coke. Grab a cup of coffee. The president of the company is introducing a new matrix for performance evaluation. HR needs you to decide which mutual funds to put a portion of your pension in.).
Breaking through information overload is a real challenge. It’s one thing to reach your direct subordinates and evangelists. It is another to break through the onslaught of inner and outer stimulation and reach the other people you depend on for your change to succeed.
Once you have their attention you must get them engaged, involved, and contributing. How? Through effective communication using social construction. Social construction is just what it says it is: social – done in community, and construction – the act of building. It tells us we build our understanding of the world together, through our relationships.
As a change leader you must become adept at stimulating this kind of community back-and-forth. To create engagement, draw your people into conversation, accept their experiences, and allow them to change yours.
Enticing people to engage with your ideas is difficult, very difficult. Change leaders must penetrate information overload. (See the 5 ways below). Then they must establish win-win scenarios with their most valuable players. When supporting your initiative becomes the best way for others to resolve their conflicts, ease pressures, achieve their goals, and otherwise get ahead, they will heed your communication and begin to work for your success because it is interwoven with their own.
To see your idea catch fire, let it loose in ways that generate ownership among your most important stakeholders. Setting it free in this way is not the same as giving up control. Become an ace at creating healthy interaction, tapping into others’ webs of experience and information. In this regard, face-to-face is the most valuable highest-leverage activity to get change right.
As with all negotiations, value is at the heart of engagement. Once it’s apparent how an idea generates value for each person, each will commit to action. Change doesn’t require formal authority or a budget—in fact, management oversight and budget battles create distractions that can impede the real work of change.
You need a river of conversation, fluidly absorbing new tributaries of ideas and innovation, enabling others to grab your ideas and run with them faster than you can keep up with. That’s how rapid, widespread engagement takes place.
Five Ways to Cut Through Information Overload
1. Call a special meeting to address your stakeholders’ concerns, not yours.
- Who are your primary stakeholders?
- What will be the topic of your meeting? Articulate this so it is compelling to stakeholders.
2. Bring your most valuable players in to evaluate a critical decision you are facing.
- To dramatize the importance of the decision, describe a likely negative consequence if you do nothing.
- How can you make your presentation more dramatic? Engage your MVPs in the urgency of the moment.
3. Do something counter-cultural to catch attention.
- Move against the grain. Be ready to jump on the reaction and harness its energy.
- Involve people in order to join forces together.
4. Stage a concentrated series of highly visible activities.
- Which constituents are most able to give your project high visibility?
- How might you incorporate their contributions into a visible activity?
5. Go directly to the source of competing demands to win support.
- What other operations or initiatives compete with your project? Who is in charge of them?
- How does your idea generate value for these individuals?
Penetrating information overload is an art form, and a skill to master if you are serious about leading change. The world is awash in overstimulation and it’s your job to cut through and reach your most valuable players. That’s what it takes to get change right.
–Seth Kahan is a change leadership specialist. His new book, Getting Innovation Right, is available for pre-order on Amazon now. His last book, Getting Change Right, is a Washington Post bestseller. Follow Seth on Twitter (@SethKahan). Learn more about Seth’s work at VisionaryLeadership.com.
[Image: Flickr user Flavio Ronco]