With virtually everyone possessing a “voice,” change management has never been more democratized, dispersed or difficult.
Leading up to now, change was seen as a fairly finite experience. Organizations identified areas for improvement or new opportunities to explore. Leaders, managers and communicators worked together to engage the organization to comprehend and endorse the changes prescribed. Today, technology is enabling and encouraging people to have a voice and an opinion. In Part 2 of this commentary, we focus on specific actions and thinking necessary to gain internal acceptance for a transformation initiative.
Read Part 1 of this commentary series here.
Effecting Change in the Current Environment
With virtually every employee having the ability to voice their opinion, ideas, criticisms, etc., the challenge to effective organizational change takes on a new level of difficulty as leaders and communicators must now address such discourse in real-time while planning for the future.
Against this backdrop, how do leaders successfully effect change in an age of “You?”
First and foremost, any major corporate undertaking is a chance to continuously learn and grow. The process is iterative, yet many change consultants and business leaders attempt to package the process in a linear box, believing that things will happen in proper sequence if they deem it so. The true value for people involved in such efforts is their ability to learn and share, formulating their own insights and forging perspectives that keep their involvement crisp and real.
Timing and audience cadence
Believe it or not, we have seen major organizational change efforts implode because the announcement and introduction phase came too early with people being told or sold rather than being immersed and allowed to discover the right backdrop against which the effort is being implemented.
To begin with, any serious change effort should begin with at least a build-up of two to three months where the conversation internally begins with leadership focusing on new and different topics, told in robust and interesting ways. Instead of the usual corporate rah-rah information told in typical corporate speak, a more personal, authentic and provocative form of communication that encourages discussion, dialogue and debate envelopes the internal reality.
This new rhetoric is complemented by specific outreach to managers at all levels, essentially setting the stage of the current competitive or business reality and outlining various approaches the organization is contemplating taking to address them.
Widen the aperture
Of course, to continue running the play above, we must take a broader, strategic view of communications – we must go beyond process updates to incorporate messaging on desired results and vision for the future. We have learned that we must separate communications from the change process – instead, we must focus on telling stories about the business. This will provide content and context around the reasons for change. All communications must answer these questions: What is changing? How does it affect me, my function? What does success look like? How are we tracking progress? What is the organization doing to support me in my efforts to engage? Will I become better through the process?
The bottom line – communications must facilitate an organizational dialogue, not a leadership monologue. This requires a completely new perspective as it relates to communications being a driver of knowledge, insight and counter opinions in an ongoing discussion.
Capture the stories that create line of sight
Starting with the change narrative, communicators must create and curate stories that dimensionalize the business for stakeholders. This is not about messaging but about experiences that foster a shared vision, activate advocates, and engage critics – consistent, multi-channel storytelling that ultimately creates business value.
From an internal communications perspective, remember that employee audiences are not monolithic. Information about the direction of the business has little meaning to employees unless they see their role in it, via their daily activities and responsibilities. Segmentation is key. We must consider each person’s individual perspectives and priorities and focus on creating relevance.
Begin with where people really are, not where we want them to be
In the past, we allowed consulting firms to define communications as a dissemination model without any respect for what people wanted to hear and where they currently were. Today, we understand that we must employ research to gain a clear understanding of the values and beliefs of management and employees.
What’s often missing in change efforts is a sense of transparency, inclusivity and empathy – ensure your efforts acknowledge the individual and what they are experiencing.
Optimize digital communications
COVID-19 health and safety measures shifted almost everyone into remote working environments, necessitating new digital formats for every type of work interaction. Zoom calls, Teams’ calls, emails, IMs, texts all replaced face-to face interactions. This contributed to employees’ “pandemic fatigue,” creating a sense of digital overload and replacing only a fraction of what an in-person experience offers.
Recognizing that remote working will stick with us well into 2021 and likely well beyond, this raises additional considerations for organizational change efforts.
Change managers and communicators must be especially vigilant about creating and adhering to a new set of best practice principles related to the type and volume of content, as well as the pace and frequency of distribution. We’ll say again – segmentation and relevance matter more than ever from a communications perspective.
Communicators should also be keeping track of how to appropriately integrate new technology offerings that aim to bring more inspiration to remote meetings such as gather.town, kumospace and pluto, which incorporate spatial dynamics and embedded analytics capabilities that better enable people to interact online in a way that enhances connection, creativity and problem- solving.
Ultimately, as technology adoption and scaling proliferate at increasing speeds, companies must consider how to clarify the role of the employee and provide the necessary training and tools to upskill or re-skill, wherever needed, in order to facilitate the change journey.
Focus on education vs. promotion
Any change effort should be viewed through the lens of learning and development – moving people from where they are to a new place. Promoting a new initiative – through promotional materials, emails, slogans, etc. – does not add to someone’s understanding or knowledge. Instead, focus on information, knowledge and development programs that deliver engaging, two-way dialogue vs. one-way “push” vehicles.
Remember, knowledge is confidence.
Be proactive in terms of addressing critics and concerns head-on
People don’t fear change as much as inconsistency and uncertainty. Confusion is a part of change – you can expect that people will feel frustrated, concerned, skeptical and angry about change. People accept change more easily if they feel they are being dealt with honestly and if they are engaged in a dialogue about their concerns. Utilize communications to encourage dialogue, discussion and debate – this type of engagement leads to learning.
The upshot of all of this is a good thing: Individuals are in a much better position today to be a part of the dialogue and debate about companies, their products and services. Information flows quicker than before, and virtual peer-to-peer conversations can create consensus and raise matters of legitimate concern.
It also means, unfortunately, that everyone now has a voice and can contribute, for better or worse. Without doubt, greater participation means a greater potential for misinformation passing as fact. The “power of You” is nothing new anymore.
From a change management perspective, the Age of “You” means organizational transformation is a team sport spanning beyond the office or manufacturing facility or lab. This approach translates awareness to understanding, understanding to behavior, and behavior to results.
In the end, change is a never-ending quest for excellence.
– Gary and Annika
Gary Grates is a Principal at Real Chemistry. His expertise and experience are defined by corporate transformation, workforce confidence and organizational relevance.
Annika Engineer is a Corporate Strategy Practice Leader at Real Chemistry. Her experience is grounded in the guardianship of sustainable business through corporate brand evolution and protection.