As you well know, the most brilliant change initiative will fail if it’s not implemented well. A brilliant change initiative will also fail - or at least not go as seamlessly as it could - if there is no intentional communication strategy - before, during, and after the change. With clear communication before, during, and after, the likelihood of team acceptance and implementation improves drastically. Without clear communication, acceptance and implementation is much more difficult.
A brilliant change initiative will also fail without an intentional communication strategy - before, during, and after the change.
I recently took my first airplane trip in 18 months. Like many others around the world, the pandemic curtailed my regular air travel. Again, no doubt like you, I have seen and read the reports of belligerent passengers refusing to wear masks, attacking flight attendants and other passengers, and otherwise simply being obnoxious. Therefore, it was with a mix of excitement and caution that my husband and I, wearing our masks, once again boarded a Frontier Airlines flight bound for Denver.
As the final passengers were settling into their seats, the captain came out of the cockpit, stood at the front of the plane and spoke to his passengers. What he did and said next, was a model in effective change communication.
Hello everyone and welcome aboard. I’m Captain Patrick and I’ll be piloting us all to Denver this afternoon. I’ve been fortunate to have been with this airline for 15 years and I love it. It’s a great company and a great airline. Before that, I was a pilot with the U.S. Air Force for 20 years.
I want to take a moment and thank you - sincerely - for choosing to fly with us today. I know it’s been a crazy 16 or so months, and I hope you and all you love have been spared. However, let’s be honest, it’s been a hard time financially so we do not take it lightly that you’ve chosen to spend your money to fly with us. We also realize you have chosen us to keep you safe. You can rest assured this plane has been sanitized, new HEPA filtration systems are installed, and the plane is cleaned after every flight.
Also, I need to be honest with you. I don’t like wearing ties, shirts, or shoes, but I have to when I work. I’m also not the biggest fan of masks, but I wear one when I’m working. It’s also a requirement of the FAA that I, my crew, and all of my passengers wear a mask while on one of this company’s planes. Also, when wearing a mask on this plane, it has to cover your mouth AND your nose at the same time. If you don’t wear a mask, you open yourself up to fines ranging from $8,500 to $35,000. If you don’t believe me, just go to FAA.gov and check it out for yourself. So with that, wear your masks properly and don’t give my crew any hassles.
We might hit a bit of turbulence because of the storms in the Midwest, but I’ll do my best to give you a heads-up as best I can. Now sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. It’s going to be a beautiful day in Denver and we’ll get you there in time to enjoy a good bit of it!
And with that informal, friendly, but very strategic message, Captain Patrick told us: He appreciated us. He would keep us safe. He specified what he expected us to do, why and what the ramifications were if we didn’t follow the rules, and he clarified what we could expect as far as turbulence during the trip. He teed up our expectations and understanding before we’d even pushed back from the jetway. As a result, everyone wore their masks, the cabin crew were friendly, helpful, and had no disruptive or abusive passengers to deal with. Also, the few times we did experience turbulence, Captain Patrick warned us ahead of time, so there were no surprises. No one panicked or even reacted when they occurred. When we landed in Denver, Captain Patrick again came out of the cabin and thanked each passenger as we deplaned. He communicated intentionally before, during and after our cross-country trip. Because of this experience, my perception of this airline skyrocketed.
Our return flight home was fine. However, the captain on the return trip made no comments to us passengers other than the perfunctory “Welcome aboard” before we pushed back from the jetway. She then provided us with the estimated flight time home and a general weather report. During our return flight, we experienced turbulence - each time without warning or subsequent comment from the captain. As a result, several passengers would gasp, grab their arm rests, children would laugh or cry, and the cabin crew would slam into a passenger or passenger’s seat if they were up and about. When we landed, the captain stayed in the cockpit and the cabin crew saw us off the plane. This captain didn’t communicate strategically before, during, or after. As a result, I don’t remember her name or anything else remarkable about that flight.
These two very different approaches to communication for the same job, yielded two very different levels of calm and engagement from the ‘customers’.
As you look towards an upcoming change or process that may be causing some anxiety or anticipation by your team or customers, how are you planning to communicate strategically before, during, and after to enhance your potential for success?
Copyright MMXXI - Liz Weber, CMC, CSP - Weber Business Services, LLC – www.WBSLLC.com +1.717.597.8890
Liz supports clients with strategic and succession planning, as well as leadership training and executive coaching. Learn more about change communication and Liz on LinkedIn!