In one of my recent blog entries, I mentioned that Panorama’s list of critical success factors (CSFs) for organizational change management includes:

  • Truth
  • Accountability
  • Leadership
  • Engagement
  • Alignment

As I should have expected, listing these CSFs seems to have precipitated a pointed reminder of their immutability.

Here is what happened:

One of our clients, a fine company populated by people of excellent character, found itself in a difficult situation. The project team and its leaders were confronted with the prospect of dealing with a painful truth – the ERP implementation we were all working on could possibly result in a net reduction in their workforce. The obvious choices that presented themselves were to evade, spin, lie, or tell the truth.

Before I get to “the rest of the story” (acknowledgment to Paul Harvey) a few practical observations:

  • Do not let yourself get painted into a corner by early communications. One factor contributing to this situation was the premature, untimely and ill-advised comments that were made by a senior team member, in a public forum regarding the project. His comments were truthful (at the time) and open, but they were ultimately problematic because they were unguarded at a time when caution would have been helpful. One thing lead to another, and all of his other comments were lost in the storm (my description) that focused on one response to a question. His response was not a policy statement. It wasn’t the declaration of a formally decided business decision. It was a well intended, but premature reply to a legitimate question. Hindsight is 20/20 they say, and we would all like to have that one back. The law of unintended consequences has not been repealed, so as seductive as the opportunity to “tell it like it is” might appear – resist it. You can always say more later.
  • Do not automatically resolve to say absolutely everything. There are appropriate limits to what should be shared in almost any communication. Some communications should be limited in the interest of certainty, fairness or discretion. It is not wrong to be sensitive to the impact of comments that will cause concern, anger, or fear. When difficult information needs to be shared – share it thoughtfully, with balance and solutions.
  • Do take the long-term view. One thing that I have learned is that sooner or later the truth always comes out. Always. Sooner is better than later, and truth is always better than any deviation from it. But sometimes sooner is not the right time to share everything. There may still be uncertainties, unforeseen changes, options, alternatives, etc. Still, the dilemma is how to be sure that after all has been said and done, that you will have been on the side of truth. A mentor once told me “if you always tell the truth you don’t really need a good memory.”
  • Empathize honestly. Bad news is a part of life. People who are on the receiving end of bad news seem to react much better when they believe that they heard it from someone acting in good faith. So, resolve to speak as though you were the person most negatively affected hearing the news. None of us with any amount of life experience should have too much trouble empathizing – since we have all been there.
  • Do the right thing. If what is needed is a retraction – retract. If an apology – apologize. If an explanation – explain already. This is not just damage control – it is rebuilding trust.

This blog entry has not had a lot to do with the specific OCM aspects of an ERP implementation. But it has, I hope, had a lot to do with successful change and the communication that needs to be present in support of it.

I worked for a firm that had a correlative principle; “Truth builds trust and trust sells product”. The potential loss of trust associated with a perceived lack of truthfulness will devastate any amount of existing goodwill.

Now for the rest of the story:

At a senior team meeting, in response to a direct question about the future, the honest, careful, brilliant response that was given was; “That will be decided at the appropriate time based on current business conditions”.

Author’s note: This blog entry describes a situation assembled from experiences with more than one of our clients.

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