Many of the articles in this magazine are about exciting exhilarating, rewarding and even fun developments with new technologies. This usually involves a change for the business and its people and, as we all know, changing a business can be messy and difficult.
Our ‘Battenburg cake’ approach to change puts the people elements at the heart of things; they are the jam and marzipan that keep it all together. With that in mind, here are some of our essential ingredients to making change stick.
Tell a compelling story…
The first thing to do is to stop talking about ‘change’ and ‘transformation’ and start talking about what’s actually happening. “We’re going to give our customers an easy way to do the things they need to do” is much better than “We’re planning a digital transformation to bring in new solutions”, so create a story that your employees and customers will want to support.
We know how important stories are for humans. And we’re pretty good at them, until we try to do it at work. It’s so much easier to describe the practicality of a change, to think about training and rollout plans than it is to describe how a new fancy ‘tech box’ will make people feel.
Start by getting under the skin of what your change means for people. You need to set out crystal clear expectations of what they need to do and, most of all, why it’s happening. What will happen to them? How would they describe it? What will they love? What will they hate? How exciting (or not) will it feel? What do they care about? What else is on their minds?
Take the time to build a story around the emotions you want people to feel, albeit grounded in reality.
It’s worth spending time refining, challenging and improving your core story. It should be easy and natural to tell, memorable and authentic – above all, it needs to be compelling to the audiences you’re telling it to. And once you’ve created your story, and everyone’s bought into it, check that it hasn’t been diluted along the way.
Include clear and realistic expectations and goals people can work towards, but be adaptable and set out things one step at a time because a big digital transformation isn’t going to happen quickly.
And keep telling it…
Now you’ve a great story to tell, you need to keep telling it, and the trick is to tell their story, not your story.
Great communication is always all about the audience. Whether that’s adverts explaining how products will enhance your life or social conversations people choose to join, no one will keep listening to someone who drones on about themselves.
It’s even better if you can get the real, front-line teams to tell their stories to their peers as they experience a change, and create a comprehensive plan that tells the story from all angles so that you have an exciting and fresh way to repeat the core messages.
By making sure your plans and activities are joined up, you’ll avoid doing too much at once. If you’ve asked people to do something, make sure they have the time to do it before you layer on something else.
Immerse your leaders
Your leaders are the trusted voice for your people. They hear from these leaders every day – they’ve seen them under pressure and will be able to ‘read’ if they believe something.
At the start of your change activity, spend time immersing your leaders in what’s going to happen. Get them to challenge the plans, look at what you’re planning to say and invite the questions their teams will ask so you help them to become confident with the story.
For me, a change strategy conversation goes like this: my own belief + proof points + action we need to take = conversation
Everyone, from the CEO and executive team to the front-line managers, should be prepared to lead by example, to really show what they believe in, and talk about how they’ve personally changed too.
Involve your people
Shared experience is the fastest way to get people on board with something. If you’re radically changing the culture of your business, then you need to make lots of effort to shift the mindset of the people who work there.
Expecting people to feel excited if they’ve just sat and listened to something or read about it is a big challenge. Instead, give them an active part to play.
Create discussions, ask them to build on what’s happening and invite them to challenge or even disrupt ‘the way things are today’. When you involve people in deciding what else can be refreshed as part of a change, this can help them to weave the new practices into daily life. When people see their own ideas becoming a reality, they’ll take pride and feel a direct connection. Keep listening with surveys and discussions to check in on how people are feeling and what they’re doing.
Never give them the full and final ‘script’ and expect them to learn it and take it to heart; you’re a long way towards making change stick when people are paraphrasing your key messages.
Confidence and culture
Include plenty of support and training to make sure people feel equipped and confident. This is the point when things can start to get a bit technical and practical so build in the emotion of your change.
A big transformation programme will also include plenty of symbolic changes to the main cultural drivers. For example, if you are shifting to be customer-led then check your performance criteria and rewards match this. Or if you need people to be more innovative then you should plan how you’ll visibly reward failure as well as success.
Celebrate the wins
Make a big deal of the little things that have changed and the people who’ve helped. Name check the whole team, not just the leader, and ask your executive team to pay them attention too. When you recognise successes and the people who’ve taken the initiative, you’ll be empowering more people to join in.
Celebrate failure too. If you’re trying new things, it stands to reason that not everything will work straight away. By experimenting and listening to ideas, you can test solutions and keep people involved and engaged.
Above all, if you can spend as much time, effort and expertise on change engagement as you do on your technical and process plan, you’ll set your programme up for success.
Helen McLeod is a partner at Golden Marzipan.