How to communicate uncertain change: my response to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle

I’m a big believer that successful change in organisations involves satisfying a human need to be ‘in the know’. If you leave a gap in communications, people will naturally try to fill it. You risk losing whatever control you might have over key messages, how the change will be perceived, and what legacy the change will leave.

Filling this gap with carefully crafted and compelling communications is the intuitive answer, but when the change is uncertain, what do you communicate? Uncertainty is abundant. We see this in Agile development. End-user feedback means the final product may be different from what was originally envisaged. It’s also true for Brexit: we are leaving the EU, but what deal we get and what this will mean for us in areas such as trade are yet to be determined.

Both of these examples illustrate uncertain change, however some uncertainty is ok. It frees us and allows us to adapt. It enables us to get to the right change, or the right deal, for an organisation (or country). It can just feel a bit worrying.

Early in my career I was fortunate to stumble across Simon Sinek’s ingenious Golden Circle. He offers a simple ‘why, how, what’ philosophy behind the communication tactics of some of the world’s greatest leaders and brands. I’ve learnt there are some important lessons when applying the philosophy to communicating uncertain change. Here’s a guide indicating how I believe you can use Sinek’s approach to navigate uncertainty and fill the communications gap:

Start with 'Why' (the vision)

A good place to start is by telling people what the future will look like. Bring to life a vision that end-users can believe in, and in which they can see themselves working differently and better. Even more effective is to involve end-users in creating that vision.

Then 'How' (the realistic outcome)

Here’s where you start to set some realistic expectations. Make people aware of the reasons for uncertainty, yet give them a sense of what they’re realistically going to get.

“We’re using Agile to develop a tool that provides you with the most value, but it means you’re going to get an early version of the tool which will only provide a few features in the beginning.”

This is the stage where people want to see the vision come to life, even in its earliest form, so use screenshots and share real-life examples from the front-line about the problems that will be solved by the change.

Finally, 'What' (the details)

If you’ve shared the vision and the realistic outcome expected, the only remaining gaps are the finer details. When will I get it? What will it do, exactly? People will wait patiently, especially if you address the uncertainty early, head-on, and you have explained why the details will come later in the process.

The key in this final stage is to familiarise end-users with the change. They’ve seen screenshots of new technology, now they need to feel it, play with it, and watch it in action. This will relieve some of the anxiety and provide greater end-user confidence.

I’ve used this approach many times to communicate through uncertainty, to fill the gap before the workforce does, and to alleviate worries.

This article was written by Tom Shorney, Manager at Alchemmy.

Connect with Tom on Linked In or email Tom.Shorney@alchemmy.com

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