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Is the Message Sticking?

How do you know when the message is getting through? It's getting through when the intent of the message is fulfilled! Sometimes it's pretty simple to tell this. For example, if you are the leader of a customer service department and your call to action specifies that people answer the phone by the second ring, you know that the message is getting through if people do this. If you are involved with an organizational transformation that involves behavioral change, that change will come slowly, possibly taking years.

As with all calls to action, however, the leader must ensure that people have the tools and resources they need in order to perform. If you are asking service technicians to fix a vehicle the first time it comes into the repair shop, but you do not provide the right tools, then you are not following through. Likewise, if an organizational transformation requires employees to take more responsibility or exert front-line leadership, and your organizational hierarchy prevents any sharing of authority, nothing will happen.

Rich Teerlink is candid about the challenges he and his team faced throughout Harley-Davidson's organizational transformation.[1] His leadership team tied communications to the business process and by so doing was able to gauge the results of communications in terms of the implementation and outcome of business objectives. Again and again, there were snags over a variety of different issues, including organizational systems, cultural values, and especially compensation plans. The leadership had to persevere and to use communications to drive the transformation home. Communications at Harley was not simply telling people what to do, but, very importantly, asking them for their ideas and creating a culture of learning in which best practices could be shared among groups. Change is never easy. What can assist the process and give it the impetus to succeed is a leader who is willing to communicate the goals and to listen to other ideas as the organization moves slowly and steadily onward.

[1]Rich Teerlink and Lee Ozley, More than a Motorcycle: The Leadership Journey at Harley-Davidson (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000).


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