sumall-ecom-packageLast week, I wrote about the need for a specific case for change. If you want people to accompany you in this process (and I suspect you do), you have to give them a good reason to do so. But at the same time, I know there are a number of things that can make it difficult to clearly describe why you are moving in a new direction. Here are a few – recognize any? – along with some ideas to counteract them.

Maybe you don’t have the data to back up your claims

Research is expensive: many sectors can’t support sophisticated research. Many associations underinvest in research with members and – probably more often – other stakeholders or experts. They rely instead on the knowledge the board members and senior staff have in their heads instead. Many organizations make even large decisions without actually going beyond the offsite boardroom for input.

And most associations do very little with the data they gather every day.

REMEDY: The bigger the change, the more important it is to be on solid ground. It may be necessary to stop before making a big change, just to make sure all the information is in place. Or can you phase the change, taking the time to gather information as you go?

Maybe you haven’t done a robust analysis

Analysis is challenging. Just getting the research or other information isn’t enough to get a clear picture of what’s happening in a sector or how an association is performing. There has to be an overlay of analysis to understand what’s important in the sea of information – what are the salient points?

REMEDY: This step takes time, and brainpower and judgement. It can be as simple as a facilitated session, or as complicated as an entire strategic planning process, but it has to focus on the right questions.

Maybe it’s just spin

Maybe the case for change doesn’t have strong support around the table, so the communication is vague, to enable people to read it in their own way. Not describing it specifically is a way to keep everyone happy. (Ish.) But it’s really just dodging the political discussions you should probably go ahead and have.

Fuzziness also creates the opportunity to back away from an unpopular decision. Is there a lack of courage?

Or it may be that the publicly communicated decision is quite different from – or only a subset of – the actual decision.

REMEDY: If it’s being kept fuzzy because the decision isn’t that solid, then it’s a big risk to forge ahead. In my experience, backing away from a decision and then claiming it wasn’t really that clear isn’t a strong strategy. If it’s because you’re keeping some of it under wraps, consider whether you need to communicate more – or less. Can you come out with a clearer story if you wait a bit?

Otherwise, you’re more or less just doing this:

Maybe it’s your communication style

Are all your documents written this way? Vague, bureaucratic, fuzzy?

REMEDY: This one is the easiest. Bring in fresh eyes, including communication professionals, as well as members of the target audience to review what you produce for clarity. Did the message get across? If not, don’t re-explain it to your test reader, just redo it. Repeat as needed.

You can’t drive very fast in the fog…

Whatever the reason, if a significant change is being undertaken, it’s critical to be clear – at the very least internally, and, ideally, externally as well. Otherwise, there will be confusion, lack of commitment, and retrenchment. Your chances of getting the change done successfully are significantly reduced.

If you’d like to discuss how to get clear on whether you need to change, why, and how, please get in touch.

Photo from, used with permission.