Can You Announce a Change Too Early?

Q: Hey Jeff, should we announce a change when we are still working out the details?

A: As a consultant, I am bound by the principles of my profession to respond with, “It depends.” Let me share what it depends on.

The Art
If you announce change too far in advance, people will ignore it until it becomes more pertinent. It’s noise amongst everything else they have to deal with. I consider the culture, the level of activity, and general morale to evaluate the best timing. Experience beats out any simplified equation.

The Science
Psychology: People require time to process change. The more difficult the change, the more advance time we want to provide for processing. The more time for processing, the more likely they are to accept and prepare for the change.

To process a change, they also need freedom from distraction. Year end, Christmas rush, when other projects are about to go-live – these are not the times to be rolling out something new. Employees will struggle to give it the focus required. A short delay can make a big difference in attention and success.

Journalism: Secrets rarely remain secrets. If leadership has discussed a new strategy, someone has already begun sharing it with employees. Better for you to inform your employees rather than have them hear it from someone else.

The Facts
How much do you know about your change?

  • What: At a high level, do you know what is going to happen?
  • Why: Can you succinctly say why you are taking this path?
  • When: Do you know when it will occur, at least to a particular quarter (e.g., Q1 2023)?
  • How: Have you decided on the main steps to get there?
  • WIMTM: Can you explain Why It Matters To Me? This is different from WIIFM. It answers why you should care, even if there is nothing personally beneficial about the change.

Leaders often hesitate to announce a change because they don’t have all of the details worked out. They are afraid they won’t be able to answer every question.

If you can answer the basics, you are ready to go. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know, but I expect we will be able to answer that by <date>.”

Vague is fine if your direction is sure. When there is urgency, it’s best to get people moving sooner than later.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper