Got a big innovation that's sure to
make your business really hum? Careful, the words you use to
communicate that change to employees could determine whether
your idea is embraced or sabotaged.
Jamie Walters, founder and president of Ivy Sea, a San
Francisco-based consulting firm, was advising a healthcare company
whose management team had worked for months on formulating a slate
of initiatives - mostly cost-cutting and restructuring moves - they
considered vital to the business' future.
But virtually from the moment managers unveiled their plans,
employees violently rejected them - largely because, Walters says,
of the way management presented their proposals. "They were very
dictatorial about it," she remembers. "They came out of their
planning meetings and said, 'OK, you need to reorganize. These are
your performance goals, and here's the schedule for when you need
to have X percent cut from your budget.'"
Not once, she says, did the company's top executives try to allay
the uncertainties that cost cutting would certainly spawn among
employees. Without the commitment of staff, the grand changes these
managers had spent so long conceiving were scuttled before they had
a chance to work.
More often than not, this is exactly what happens to change
initiatives: They fall flat. Indeed, Walters says, nearly 75
percent of all change efforts fail. While plenty of factors
contribute to this high failure rate, one little-recognized reason
is the language used by managers in describing that change.
"Language is and has always been important in communicating change,
because it's how we connect with people," says Walters, who is also
the author of Big Vision, Small Business (Berrett-Koehler
Publishers). "It's how we share information in a way that someone
either accepts or rejects."