Think About the “Whys”

whyYesterday’s retrospectives on the life and legacy of Sen. Edward Kennedy reinforced his reputation as a passionate, eloquent speaker. 

Throughout the day, news stories showed clips of interviews with and platform speeches delivered by an articulate, charismatic champion of civil rights and equality.

Yet one clip from his failed Presidential campaign in 1980 stood apart from the others.

In this clip, a reporter asked the late Senator why he wanted to be President.  A fairly straightforward question for any candidate seeking that office, right?

The Senator’s response?  “Ummm……ahhhh….”

No wonder Kennedy failed to gather support for his campaign.  It’s hard to rally around a candidate who cannot tell you why you should vote for him.

Managing people is a lot like managing a political campaign – managers try to build support for their ideas and rally groups of people to accomplish a common goal.  And like politicians, managers often find themselves having to support or defend a decision or action made by someone else.

Their employees expect them to know the answers, to be able to provide context for the action or decision.  Unfortunately, in most cases managers are briefed on the “what”, but they don’t have the information they need to answer the “whys”.

So often when developing change communications plans, communications professionals overlook the role of the manager in reinforcing our messaging.  We fail to equip our managers with anything beyond the most superficial talking points.  As a result, we set our managers up for failure.

As any parent knows, “Because I said so” isn’t an effective answer.  Likewise, “Because the CEO says we should” won’t motivate employees to embrace change.

Managers must be able to articulate, in plain terms, why the decision or change is a good one, what the consequences of inaction are, and what benefits the employees will see as a result.  If they are unable to do so, your elaborate change management communications campaign has little chance of succeeding.

My advice to communicators:  Don’t let your managers twist in the wind.  Give them the information they need to address those tricky “whys” and win the support of their employees.  In the end, everyone wins.

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About Susan Rink

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications (www.rinkcomms.com), author of the "Take Note" blog and presenter of the "Take Note" podcast series (http://www.youtube.com/user/RinkComms).

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