I was speaking to friend recently, who had just taken on a new role leading a large-scale organisational transformation (only part of which involved IT change). Along the way, she mentioned a conversation with the organisation’s Head of Communications, who had expressed the need to keep presenting a positive message to the staff about what they were intending to achieve. My friend, however, had a different view. She wanted to make it clear that the staff would be going through periods of uncertainty, and that they would need support for that.
She also referenced the Kübler-Ross change curve, and in particular the “valley of depair” that is inevitable during any change process when difficulties start to materialise. (As an aside, it’s probably no coincidence that the Gartner hype cycle looks very similar—they are both about complex promises meeting reality.)
This recognition of, and support for, people facing uncertainty is about honest communication. A Transformation Lead might think they need to be the cheerleader-in-chief—and it’s definitely important to remind people of the goals we’re trying to achieve with a transformation—but sooner or later people will see reality for what it is. If we don’t acknowledge this before it happens our teams will lose trust in us.
It’s important, therefore, to acknowledge the uncertainty that will occur, and that people will feel it. And we can find ways to help them. Just acknowledging that uncertainty is inevitable is a start, because it legitimises the conversation. There may usefully be forums for people to talk about it—in formal groups, in passing, or in line manager one-to-ones. And we can be open to adjust our plans in response to that uncertainty; this will always help to achieve a better outcome.
So reminding people about the goals of a transformation is important. But it’s also important to acknowledge the inherent uncertainty that people will feel. We can use that feedback to ensure greater success.