The fear of making mistakes is the root of all bureaucracy and the enemy of evolution.
“I don’t think we’re ready to share anything,” Diana said four months into an eighteen-month IT project implementation.
“Help me understand more about that,” Mark replied choking back his exasperation.
Only two days earlier Diana, the project leader and a rising IT star at a regional banking group, had scolded Mark’s change team for more than an hour after hearing feedback from senior-level stakeholders that they were not receiving any messages about the program. She blamed the change team for this “huge failure” despite having at least ten iterations of project introduction materials sitting in her inbox waiting for her approval.
Undeterred, the team had spent two days revising the materials they first pushed to her one week after the project started–an email announcement, a brief PowerPoint deck overview and a supporting script for leaders. And now, hoping they could finally start communicating with stakeholders, it sounded like they were back to square one.
“Once we go out with a message, everyone will start asking questions about the solution and we won’t have the answers. We’re still in design. A lot can change between now and the build phase, let alone now and go live. There’s too much uncertainty.”
“Can we make that part of our message?” Mark asked. “How about we tell them our goals and the process we’re going through to get there.”
“God, no! If we did that, then they would want to give us input.”
“You don’t understand. I don’t want to deal with their input. They could take us waaaay off track,” Diana exclaimed.
“We can manage that, can’t we?” Mark encouraged. “We can share the parameters set by the steering committee, and you know, do a little verbal aikido. Tell them they have a good point, and challenge them to think about their input in light of the project parameters. Who knows, maybe they’ll help with some of the issues the project team is struggling with.”
“But that will make it look like we don’t know what we are doing.”
“Or maybe they’ll think you’re smart because you are asking for their wisdom . . . and they’ll never know you are subtly helping them see the whole context of the challenge.”
Shaking her head, Diana glared at Mark and said tersely, “There’s too much risk to a conversation like that. And I don’t need that kind of attention right now. There’s enough pressure on this project as it is.”
“Okay.” Mark said taking a long deep breath. “What do you want to do about those senior stakeholders?”
Change leaders can significantly improve project outcomes when they remember that change is best done naked. Despite our fears to the contrary, transparency actually reduces resistance because it gives stakeholders the information they need to think through and understand organization challenges in their complete context. It invites participation—one of the most powerful tools of influence—and reduces the blowback that comes when stakeholders do not feel heard.
Transparency also quietly signals that the change leader is confident, knowledgeable, and in control of the process of creating a solution that works for the good of the organization. Transparency does not give away power. It demonstrates that the change leader is a strong process leader who leverages the team to achieve results.
To make transparency work, change leaders must:
- Have the facts straight—Builds credibility and demonstrates the leader is in control,
- Be clear about the information and feedback needed from others—Engages stakeholders actively and focuses their attention on key issues, and
- Understand how all stakeholder groups will measure success—Demonstrates you understand and appreciate their needs.
Epilogue: One month later Diana fired Mark and his team for “not getting it.” Two months after that, the project sponsors fired Diana. As far as anyone knows, the senior stakeholders are still waiting for information about the project.