Launch Organizational Change with a Metaphor

Engage employees on all three levels of communication to launch effective organizational change.

Marie was a new business unit leader in this Fortune 500 manufacturing company. Her charge was to launch a transformation, which included evaluating every aspect of their production and introducing Lean Six Sigma.

Marie knew about all the rumblings that had been going on about the anticipated changes she would lead. She understood that in order to achieve this transformation, she would have to communicate in a way that would capture people’s attention and let them know that to survive in the marketplace they would have to change the way they did business.

She wanted to demonstrate, somehow, that change was not an option. She understood that she needed to connect with employees on all Three Levels of Communication™:

  • Intellectual—employees understood what needed to happen and why.
  • Emotional—employees experienced and participated in events that inspired them.
  • Practical—employees knew how they could make a personal contribution.

“I’ve spoken to most of you in this room over the past month,” she said, facing all 500 of the plant’s employees during her first all-employee meeting. “You’ve told me that the way we’ve been doing business isn’t working anymore. That said, we all know that changing what we are used to doing on a daily basis is hard.”

Marie reached down and grabbed a pair of safety goggles. Slipping them on, she picked up an old ceramic jug and a hammer. Raising the jug high so that everyone could see, she smashed it.

The eyes of every person in that room were riveted on Marie.

“This jug will never be the same, no matter how hard we might try to put it back together the way it used to be. It’s been changed by outside forces. Just like us.”

Marie looked from one person in the room to another. “We cannot keep doing business the way we’ve done it in the past. Not if we want to be successful in today’s market. So, I challenge all of you. Help me create new ways to understand and serve our customers. I need your ideas, your insights, and your expertise.”

This is a true story. Marie launched her change that day with the metaphor of a broken jug. She went on and presented some facts and figures. Then, everyone broke into team meetings to talk about what was working and what was not working. Everyone understood they had just taken the first step, and that the work they needed to do was monumental and still before them. But, they were intrigued by this leader’s approach, and they were open to learning more about how they could participate.

Launching change is easy, but it takes a multi-faceted communication plan to ensure effective, measurable organizational change over time. If you haven’t had a chance yet, go to the sidebar next to this blog and download your free eBook: Launching Organizational Change. Learn about:

  • The Three Levels of Leadership Communication™.
  • How to avoid the three most common communication mistakes leaders make.
  • Five critical success factors to accelerate any organizational change.

Stay tuned for future blogs. Effective change requires showing—not just telling employees what needs to happen. A variety of communication techniques exist that will engage employees on an emotional level:

    1. Show a movie clip.
    2. Share a metaphor.
    3. Involve employees with exercises, games, or experiences.
    4. Tell stories.

Over the next few weeks, I will provide examples of movie clips you can use for specific purposes, a list of excellent metaphors, and a variety of exercises, games, and stories that you can use to help accelerate change in your organization. Next week, I’ll feature movie clips.

When you launch a change in your department or organization, how do you engage employees on all three levels of communication?

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