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Communicating Change to the Outside, Part 2

As we improve our business and processes, we must not only communicate our new expectations to personnel, but also to our service providers, and often, our customers.

By ALAN NICOL, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutions LLC

This is part two of a two-part piece. Part one can be found here.

If we are driving culture, process and behavior change effectively inside of our organization, then certainly we are actively communicating our expectations, our changes and describing the new behaviors that we deem appropriate. Inside of our own organizations, we can say how we expect people to behave. However, when we communicate to organizations or people outside of our purview, we cannot expect, but we can request.

I find that managing outsiders’ expectations is the best way to invite their cooperation for changes we are making. We don’t need to make long, uninteresting presentations with grand explanations. What works best is to simply and concisely explain what new behaviors we are adopting, how our outside partners are likely to observe them, that we believe they are improving our performance and that we will need our outsiders’ cooperation to succeed.

We do not need to explain why we believe what we do. Reflecting on the considerations above about what business it is of others what we do, we are entitled to our beliefs and professionalism demands that our decisions are our own business. If an outsider is genuinely interested in how we are accomplishing our improvements and ask us to share, that’s great. We don’t have to justify our decisions, though.

When we proactively warn our business partners that we are going to do things differently and that our success depends upon their cooperation, we effectively do several things:

  1. We warn them that change is occurring, so they aren’t surprised or reflexively take a defensive posture.
  2. We set an expectation that we change and, therefore, engage them as another monitor of our progress — they expect it and so they end up demanding it of us.
  3. We politely remind them that we are all in business together and it is in our mutual interest that our improvements succeed — and since they serve us in some way, they are responsible to help us instead of resist.
  4. We give them time to get over the natural emotional response of fear of change, so that by the time our improvements are taking effect, they are ready to play along rather than reticent to participate.
  5. Disclosure drives trust and cooperation — perceptions of secrets drive alienation and resistance.

Let me share an example from my own experience. Without giving too much background, I became the manager of a small engineering team, and learned that one behavior that would drive improved team success was to increase communications between my design team and the manufacturing teams. Designs were not always optimized for manufacturability.

After getting agreement from the design team that we would engage the manufacturing team for input and feedback to our designs, I went and spoke with the manager of the manufacturing group. He laughed at me when I told him my engineers would be interrupting his personnel more often and inviting them to design reviews. I don’t think he believed me, but he passed on the “threat” to his team as I requested.

After enough time had passed, and enough reminders were given for my engineers to demonstrate success, I began to investigate. I asked them whom they had consulted and if they were getting the cooperation they needed. I got mixed answers. I also went to my counterpart manufacturing manager again and asked for his opinion about whether my team was consulting his. He acknowledged that they had.

With some continued expectation setting and cooperation from the manufacturing group, it soon became habit for the two teams to be working together on product designs. It didn’t have to go that way. The manufacturing team could have very easily told us to “buzz off” and mind our own business because they had their own work to do without us asking them to do ours, too.

Years later that manufacturing manager recalled to me the time we met when I appeared in his office to discuss cooperation between our teams. He admitted that he didn’t expect to see me again or for our teams to cooperate. He also confessed that I got his attention when they did. To this day, he remains my mentor and friend.

Don’t forget to communicate your change efforts outside of your own organization. Don’t be afraid to admit that you are going to try something new. Let your outside partners know what to expect and tell them what kind of cooperation you need. You don’t need to justify yourself or feel embarrassed.

Communicating proactively to your outside community can mean the difference between success and failure for your internal changes. This is because real change comes with behavioral change and there is no hiding that from those with whom we work. It is best to disclose and set expectations than to keep it internal. Disclosure promotes trust and cooperation. Perceptions of secrecy drive resentment, alienation and resistance.

Take a look at the changes you are driving today. Do you have outside players that would notice? Have you told them what to expect? Have you asked for their indulgence? If not, do so.

Stay wise, friends.

To read part one of this two-part series, please click here. What’s your take? Please feel free to comment below! For more information, please visit