Google change management and you’ll get around 1,070,000,000 results.
Our ability to successfully navigate ourselves and others through a significant change may be the ultimate measure of our leadership effectiveness. Writers, speakers, business leaders, consultants, academics and scientists have opined at great length on this subject. So what could I possibly add to that body of knowledge?
To be honest I’m not sure, but I have found that there are ideas that feel right or fit what I’m trying to accomplish while others don’t. So here’s my take on some practical and not so practical suggestions for navigating change presented with the hope that you might find one of these approaches helpful in your journey.
Craft the Story
Describe the vision in terms of a story and the people in, (and even outside), the organization as participants in a grand adventure. Weave the business or social context into the story. Remember, change may be about “things” but the experience will be all about people, (employees, customers, suppliers, etc.). I’d even suggest giving your story an inspiring title that doesn’t include the word process, re-engineering, project, realignment or any other tired corporate term. Then start bouncing it off people, refining it, testing it, until you’re ready to invite others to join you.
Capture the Image
In preparation for a radical culture change I took the senior leadership team through a visualization exercise during which they were asked to imagine, in very specific ways, what life will be like in the organization once the change is in place and the results have been achieved, in other words, what happens at the end of the story. Push them to think beyond practical or rationale ideas to imagine like a child. Have them write it down what they imagined, then talk it out and have fun with it as a team. See if you can bring the ideas together into one inspiring image.
This type of exercise will invite emotional connection and help you frame the story in personal terms. It may take some effort as people may be used to disconnecting their imaginations and emotions at work. Use whatever works for you but take the time to help people begin with the end in mind. If you work at it you can link the entire story to a single word that will be easy to remember and provide a focal point for the change.
Create the Core
Begin with a small group of people who are excited about the message and invite them to help you with the change. This core group will be critical to sharing the story and multiplying organizational “faith”. I use the word faith because any time you ask people to move out of their comfort zones and into a story you cannot promise will have a happy ending there is an element of faith involved.
This core group will help tell the story to people you cannot reach or with whom you don’t have a strong relationship. It is critical they believe in the change and are ready to go first both in their words and actions. I recommend developing this group before you fully engage in bringing the story to the rest of the organization.
Communicate the Story
Sure you could hold a company meeting and walk through a bunch of PowerPoint slides but what fun is that? How about skits, home-made videos or testimonials? Find a way to present the story that will be memorable. You don’t have to get a standing ovation, just surprise them by going beyond the normal change management sales pitch.
Keep it simple. Focus the message on what you want people to remember and what you want them to do. Help people see “our story” can be also be “my story”. This is not a story that you are doing TO them it is a story they can write and that can have meaning for everyone involved. If the only outcomes you talk about are presented on a spreadsheet this is going to be a very tough sell.
Change the Scenery
One of the first steps you can take to make the story “real” for people is to make changes to the work environment. This means more than just putting inspiring posters on the wall or moving seats. The bigger the change, the bigger the change in environment may need to be. Sometimes this can mean knocking down walls, opening up the work space or arranging the furniture differently. It can also mean “virtual” changes to the environment, like how and where meetings are held and names of teams or titles. You can also inspire imaginations through a field trip. Get them out of the “same four walls” to see what is possible.
Claim the Momentum
This one is simple. When you see people acting in ways that support the story, share their story! If you hear positive feedback from outside the company, shout it out! Use a “social” platform where people can post success stories, create story walls people can write on and decorate, start every meeting with stories, instigate random acts of story sharing around the office, etc. The more ways you capture how the story is coming to life the more people will want to be a part the adventure. Just for fun I like to throw in prizes for telling stories like t-shirts, hats or other tokens that reinforce the story and add to the fun.
The key here is to be laser focused on every signal that the change is taking hold and be intentional about celebrating progress. Too often the story begins with great fanfare and dies in the middle because momentum is lost and obstacles bring progress to a halt.
Connect the Dots
Finally, as the story unfolds be sure to track progress and report the results to the organization. While the journey is where you’ll experience the long-term benefits the destination envisioned when you began is still very important. People need to know that the hard work, struggle and patience are paying off. Again this can be managed through many channels such as newsletters, status boards, town hall meetings, break room postings, scrolling electronic marquees, random gatherings or wherever it makes sense.
So there you have it. You’ll notice I didn’t touch on the strategy, details, plans or other tactical activities. I’m assuming you already tackled that or you wouldn’t be contemplating a change. Besides, I have a crazy theory that you don’t need to know exactly how you will get there when you have a bunch of people excited about the journey. You can sort those things out along the “yellow brick road” and who knows, you might find what you are looking for even before you arrive.
Please feel free to comment below and share your experiences and ideas. Let’s learn together.