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Changing Lanes Step #3 – Signal the Change

September 09, 20226 min read

Understand why and how to signal anyone who may be affected by the changes you’re planning.

“Poor communication is the root of every problem.” 

When driving, changing lanes without signaling is reckless, risky, and dangerous to everyone involved. 

In business or life, letting everyone involved know that change is coming, why it is important or beneficial, and what they can or must do to make it succeed, is essential.  The list of who you should signal may also need to include vendors, contractors, media, and other stakeholders.

I have seen many examples of this step gone wrong.   

As a coach and consultant, I’m typically called upon to fix or improve things that aren’t going well.

Here are two scenarios you will want to avoid:

  1. My very first consulting assignment more than 30 years ago, as well as my most recent, had identical issues with lack of signaling.  Both situations involved apparently successful companies with inspiring leaders, yet both were struggling in a variety of ways, despite their resources and potential.  Both were owned by visionary entrepreneurs who would change course and priorities frequently, without signaling. 

In situations like these, some team members learn to adapt and happily (or unhappily) go along enabling the impetuous leader’s whims.  Other’s balk, and drop anchor at the next effort to change, waiting for the leader’s current whim to run out of steam till “things get back to normal”.  The rest would brace themselves for the next disruption in their wavy existence. 

In the case of both businesses, the leaders’ intentions to change often ended in struggle, delay, failures, and wasted resources.

  1. Another example I experienced was a leader, once again the company’s owner, who had signaled the coming of a large, grand renovation, complete with artist renderings, announcements, emails, the works.  His proposed project would update the entire facility and enhance the customer experience immeasurably. 

The only problem was, three years later, the renovation still hadn’t happened. 

The owner had the right idea.  The facility was tired, losing market share, and needed an update.  But it turns out, he threw the signal before confirming that he could deliver. 

First, a promise from a lender didn’t materialize.  Then another of his business ventures started sucking cash.  Soon, there was no way for him to fund the renovation. 

The customers, who in this case were members, (as in recurring revenue sources) started becoming cynical, joking about all of the delay and excuses.  Eventually doubting the stability of the business and leaving more quickly than they could be replaced. 

The staff was forced, not only to cope with the customer’s doubts, jokes and jibes, but also to generate growth in sales and profits. 

Try hiring, motivating, and growing in that environment.  A tough situation, for sure.

Time for Action

Making things worse, the owner, rather than explaining the changing conditions or finding some other way to make even some of the promised improvements, simply stopped communicating.  Like a driver who puts a turn signal on and never turns it off, leaving everyone around wondering what is about to happen – or not?

Each of these scenarios highlight the importance of proper signaling.  It is imperative, and far more than a courtesy.  Proper signaling allows others to enable or even propel your change.  And to keep from acting surprised or unprepared when it is their turn to help move the effort forward.

Remember, "Poor communication is at the root of every problem."

So, how can you be a great communicator and cover the most important bases when signaling your intended change?  

Six Questions:

Answering the following six questions will prepare you to signal properly.

  1. Whose permission will you need?  (If any...)

  2. Whose help will you need?

  3. Who could hinder or hold things up?

  4. Who else should be advised?  Supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, vendors, customers, etc.

  5. What are the best methods for each essential signal?
    In-person, one-on-one
    Team meetings?
    Video message

  6. When should you start?

The Changing Lanes for Business Coaching Program includes a special worksheet you can use to make this step easy*. 

Change Management, Change Leadership

It not only ensures that you signal all right people, but helps to determine the best approach and timing to ensure support for your change.  It can also be re-used as often as you'd like, by you or team members, to ensure your success in the future. 

* Tip:  Share the worksheet with key members of your team...  Seeking, and heeding, perspectives from others will give you a better grasp of communication needs and opportunities you might have missed doing this step on your own.

Once you have answered these questions, you will still have to do the communicating. 

The timing and method(s) of your delivery can be crucial.  But completing this exercise will leave you fully informed about the scope of your communication needs, with a plan to carry them out.

How should you pace and track your progress and success with this step?

Two ways…  Fast or slow.  I’ve seen successful leaders use this as a way to blitz through the essential list when rapid action is called for, and also as a way to pace themselves as they break the news of impending change to their key people, stakeholders and even customers.  Allowing the questions and responses they receive to help shape their plans, subsequent communication and increase the support they developed for what might have otherwise been a contentious shift.

Regardless of your approach, use your answers to the questions above as a checklist.  The question about when to start is as relevant in organizational change as it is when driving.  In Driver’s-Ed they teach you to signal at least 100 feet prior to any turn.  Only you can anticipate the proper timing to signal your change.  Being aware that timing is important will help you to anticipate and plan the proper interval.

With the Signaling step completed, you can feel confident and secure that you have thoughtfully engaged everyone necessary for your lane change to succeed.  

A few final words of caution:

  1. No Weaving…  Don’t be that idiot, weaving in and out of lanes, seemingly at random, without signaling.

  2. Signaling change doesn’t have to wait until your decision is made or you’ve completely cleared the way.  Depending upon the urgency or your certainty that change will happen, you can start signaling much earlier.  Just like driving.  You may not yet know if it’s clear, but you know you’re getting out of this lane and in which direction.  So, you throw your signal on to make your intentions clear and then start looking for an opportunity, or in some cases, help from others, to make an opportunity to move in your desired direction. 

  3. Don’t be that driver who signals, but doesn’t turn, leaving others wondering if this is going to happen, or if you’re just clueless.

Schedule a FREE call with me to discuss your answers to the questions above and the best ways to signal your intended change. 

Are you ready for Step #4?

To inspire you for the final step, here is another great quote from Rosa Parks.

"To bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step."


Let’s DO this…  It’s time to Change Lanes!  

Click here for the next post: MAKE the CHANGE to apply your preparation and actually make the change.  

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