Communicating Change- Rapidly!
For my birthday, my dear friend from Seattle joined me on a jet boat excursion up the Willamette River. It was so darn much fun! The perfect mix of getting soaked and learning about the history of the waterfront and river.
There were two ways to get drenched. Our driver and tour guide, Wit, would speed up to 40 knots then come to a dead halt; the water flew over the front of the boat and landed many feet behind. The other way he made sure we felt the river was what he called a “spinaroo.” He took us into a fast 360 turn and the water would fly in when we stopped.
One of the many things I enjoyed about Wit was that before we left the dock (and after the necessary safety lesson) he said this: “After every trip someone gets off the boat complaining, ‘I didn’t think we were going to get that wet.’ You’re going to get wet.” He pointed to a sign at the side of the dock that read, “You may get wet.” He continued, “Not you MAY get wet, you WILL get wet . YOU WILL GET WET. Now repeat after me, ‘I WILL GET WET!’” We chorused after him. No one could say they didn't know.
At the start of a spinaroo, Wit called out, “Hold on, hold on, hold on!” After the first spinaroo he learned not everyone in the first row could hear him. He was attentive to this when they failed to hold onto the rail behind them as he demonstrated at the dock (and we satisfactorily demonstrated back). He adjusted his approach and sounded three toots of the boat's whistle instead of using his voice. Everyone got it.
How great would it be if those who are responsible for introducing and implementing change in organizations followed Wit’s example? Give fair warning, make sure people understand what they are in for, and then adapt when it’s clear you’ve lost some people.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in organizations over the years and I have to say few leaders communicate the basics. All too often, only a select few have access to information even after the rumors have started (which is the sure-fire signal you've waited too late). People are told “everything’s going to be okay, trust me” instead of being presented with an accurate picture of what’s going to happen (i.e., "You WILL get wet!"). When inevitable challenges occur, they fail to adapt and bring everyone along. People get lost, in danger, or don't succeed.
Back on the river, no one fell out of the boat. If the laughter, whoops and thumbs up were any indication, everyone had a blast. We were sopping wet when got off the boat. But no one could say they weren't well aware that would happen.
I loved the entire experience and it provided me with such a vivid metaphor. So remember, in any change process you will get wet—hang on, hang on, hang on!