At CPAC 2013, Sen. Mitch McConnell rolled out a 7-foot, 3-inch stack of paper wrapped in a red ribbon. This stack purports to contain the 20,000 pages of regulations created to flesh out the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“Obamacare”). Regardless of your politics, you have to admit the Red Tape Tower makes an impression.
“Pablum,” he said.
I’m fairly proud of my vocabulary, but I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what that word meant. “It means ‘mush’,” he said, “like there’s nothing there to chew on.”
I was at Guidant Corporation, and we were being acquired. He was a VP in charge of integrating the two companies’ sales forces, and he was describing the messages we were producing to educate our employees.
Recently I helped a client’s executives craft key messages about a disruptive change they were implementing. It struck me that the change was complex, the messaging was complex, and that the organization’s employees were going to be lost and confused.
So I drew a picture on the white board and told a story…
When major changes are announced in an organization, an interesting dynamic develops:
Employees have a greater than usual need for information.
Leaders tend to more strictly control the flow of information.
In times of uncertainty, employees increase their sensitivity to any signals present, frequently misinterpreting whatever facts are available and filling the information gap with bizarre scenarios they have generated. Rumors, half-truths, and well-intentioned guesses end up dominating the talk around the water cooler.