Whether it's to grow and expand or to course-correct, at some point, every company needs to change.
hen these changes are not properly co-ordinated and communicated in advance, as pointedly demonstrated during this past week's abrupt firing of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, an organisation risks morale-crushing fallout.
Fortunately, for those of you who don't work in the Trump administration, there are methods to minimise the madness.
When I first moved to Ireland, I was interviewed for part of a new university-level textbook designed to help business students understand and learn the importance of implementing an input-gathering communications and messaging plan before any organisational change is announced or implemented.
So, today, if you are not enrolled in a college programme that uses Organisational Behaviour, edited by Christine Cross and Ronan Carbery, featuring my insights in Chapter 10, then you can simply keep reading here for the condensed version of my considerations and suggestions to help make your next change a success.
1 The communications plan is the foundation of any change
If the foundation isn't laid properly, most change campaigns will collapse upon themselves. This results in extra, unplanned and not-budgeted time and resources that will have to be dumped into the change project - to try to rebuild the foundation.
The change outcomes will likely never be as strong as they could have if the plan had been executed right the first time.
And yet, communications strategies are too often overlooked. Executives may think successful change rests on the simple merits of the change itself. But that's wrong. Information alone is not enough to convince and persuade employees that the change is in their best interest.
2 The number one thing is to allocate the proper time
The "transformation lag", as some businesses call it, usually involves an 18-month process before the "official announcement".
The trouble occurs when the change announcement is made first and then the buy-in is attempted. Successful change happens in the opposite order.
3 Developing the proper messages around your change idea is critical
This should never be done in a vacuum. The person or small confidential team that develops the change idea must spend time writing out the benefits and positive reasons behind this effort and prepare for every possible objection and then craft positive responses to them.
But that's not enough - the messages must be tested…
4 So, identifying stakeholders - in tiers - is next and this requires the most delicacy and protocol
You're essentially building a political outreach campaign. What's the number that you need to win? Different than elections, you're going to strive for more than 51pc for your victory. You want to get as many people on board before you make the official announcement. This all must be done in the proper order. Think of concentric circles. Protocol is key here. You must be careful not to offend anyone in this process.
Your first tier of stakeholders is what we call in campaigning, the "Influencers". Like the name implies, they have to have a lot of clout and influence among identified next tier stakeholder groups.
Depending on the type of change you can also consider influencers who are "third-party advocates".
Here, think of a major vendor or client or board member who may not be part of your organisation, per se, but who is respected, well-known and influential anyway.
Test your messages with this group and gather intel and responses from them. Incorporate their feedback.
5 Stakeholder fan-out
Next come the other tiers as dictated by their levels of influence and respect, size, etc. You're doing all this in the "message testing" phase -and while you're doing that, you're gathering their input, showing that you value them, and recalibrating your message if you need to. And getting that all important pre-rollout buy-in!
The goal here is that by the time you roll out whatever your change is, you have critical mass of stakeholder buy-in. If you have vetted your message and positive solutions to overcome objections properly, then you will have a greater chance of success.
6 Campaign rollout rewards
Your change campaign doesn't end there - you can't make the announcement and walk away. You should also have a calendar of milestones with small reward moments built in. Establish incentives to encourage implementation. This is your test drive area. Calculate your margins for compromise in case you need to adjust a bit during this time.
7 Over time, you can institutionalise the change
Be ready with the framework for writing the change into manuals, handbooks, whatever. But don't put things in stone until after you've documented success in the previous steps.
For Change Communications to be successful, you must devise a two-way street.
Getting stakeholder buy-in on message and benefits early, before announcement and implementation may seem like a lot of work, but it will dramatically increase your rate of success - and that saves time and money!
Is it time for your organisation to change? Let me know and I can help. Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon
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