Get the Message Just Right…

Most leaders adopt three approaches to communicating the need for change: Tell, Sell, or Co-create. Choosing the approach that will get the best outcome for people and the organisation is another of those getting it just right challenges faced by leaders.

When I work with clients, they often recognise the challenge of making the right choice between these three approaches when times are challenging and bad news is to be delivered. Making a conscious choice between Tell, Sell, or Co-create involves understanding how our emotions may be pushing us towards what we consider to be the low risk option of Tell; the voice in our head may be saying ” deliver the bad news and get out of Dodge”.

Great leaders are skilled in managing their emotions and choosing the approach that will deliver the best outcomes. For example, Vineet Nyar CEO of HCL opted for the Co-create option when the recession hit. He made what may seem to be a counter intuitive choice and talked to all the employees and said, ‘We have a problem. A recession has hit. We need your help. Tell us the ideas”. The risk paid off, the employees felt that they were part of the solution and the company managed to cut costs and also increased their share of customers’ budgets.

My sense is that leaders are less aware of the need to get the approach just right when times are good and there is great opportunity. In this scenario, the risk is different. Here we may be carried away by our own enthusiasm and fall into the trap of starting off in Co-create or Sell and end in being perceived as a Tell.

Great leaders are adept at managing this risk and choose the their moment to hold back from adding more value, and go on to reap the rewards of higher engagement and ownership. Marshall Goldsmith challenges us to recognise that while the voice in our head may be saying “it’s good to improve the quality of other people’s good ideas” the reality may be that we’re often just trying to prove how clever we are. He describes this as the challenge of adding “too much value,” and reminds us that while the quality of the idea may go up 5% with our additional value; the employees sense of commitment to it may go down 50%.

Let’s return to the challenge of getting it just right; next time you have an important change message to communicate, pause for a moment to ask yourself; “What approach to communicating this message will be just right: Tell, Sell, or Co-create?”

Now pause again, then ask yourself “Will this approach deliver the best outcomes for the people and the organisation?”

Finally, be conscious of your chosen approach and manage your own emotional response as you deliver the message.

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