What MLK Taught Us About Change Communication

MLK Communicating Change

Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest change communicators of all time. I am always struck by how much Dr. King accomplished at such a young age. He was just 39 years old when his life ended so tragically but the changes he brought about will live forever. One of the reasons King was so effective at communicating and leading change was his ability to create a powerful vision. Nowhere was that more apparent than in his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. The most quoted line of the speech is: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” It was clear in this statement where the vision was going and how long it would take to get there. It resonated and continues to do so today.

Company visions all too often fail to inspire employees. Some cause employees to roll their eyes or even to snicker out loud at the “flavor of the month.” Most just go unheard, unnoticed and unheeded. Typically, it’s because those communicating the vision fail to employ these two basic communication principles that Dr. King understood implicitly:

  1. Storytelling is powerful. You need to paint a picture of your vision that is so vivid that people can almost feel it, smell it and taste it. Your employees will be much more apt to take a journey if they know where they are going and can visualize it. Use powerful metaphors, meaningful analogies and examples that are personally relevant to employee jobs.
  2.  Change hearts to create change. Logic makes us think but it is our emotions that get us up out of our chairs and ready to take action. Both are needed but the emphasis must be on the emotion if you want change to happen. Choose channels that lend themselves to emotion such as video and town hall speeches. If your moving company video and your impassioned CEO speech doesn’t make at least a few employees wipe away a few tears, then you haven’t done your job as well as you need to.

Communicating a culture change vision may not be the civil rights movement, but there’s no reason it can’t include storytelling and passion as strategies. The next time you are tasked with devising a vision, sit back, close your eyes and take a few moments to dream what the world will be like if the vision comes to fruition. You just might discover a way to communicate the vision that inspires real, meaningful and lasting change.

1 Comment

Mike Klein

about 8 years ago

While it may be more important to "change hearts than to change minds," it may be more successful to connect with that which already dwells within the hearts of those who are asked to change. Resonance beats persuasion.

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