Which do you think is harder … making a change or getting people to realize you have? Granted, some of us may seem like change addicts to those who hang on to the familiar for long periods of time, but everyone – and every company – faces change at some point in their lives and their career.
As someone who could be seen as a bit of a change aficionado, my oft-mentioned joke is, “I love change … as long as I’m driving it.” But I may be a bit of an exception. Research has time and again confirmed that people resist change (and I have certainly had my moments as well). Despite all the constant change around us, especially in the work environment, McKinsey & Company reports that about 70% of all changes in organizations fail. And that’s been consistent for decades, even during and post-Six Sigma.
So whether you like to change things up or want to run the other way, the New Year is a good time to think about change and how it is communicated.
Which brings me to a recent experience and interesting consideration regarding the whole change mode, especially as it relates to organizations and brands. I recently had the opportunity to observe a group of individuals who were strangers to each other yet treated the entire group like a loving, supportive family. They were all there to talk about a common challenge. The surprising factor was that over and over again, individuals expressed that while they felt they had come through the challenge, they were convinced the hardest part was getting acceptance that they had changed.
Hmmm. Which made me think. In this world of constant workplace change, be that downsizing, upsizing, outsourcing, insourcing, innovations, incriminations, reorganizations, disorganization, market shifts, product upcycles, market down cycles, branding and rebranding – how many people actually “get it” that you or “it” has changed?
I have been surprised on more than one occasion to run into someone (especially when that someone is connected to me on LinkedIn), only to get a comment about how’s it going with a position I held, not currently or last but even two positions prior. And it wasn’t until very recently when reconnecting with a former colleague that I was shocked myself to realize it really wasn’t all that long ago time wise.
That’s how it is with change. You get caught up in it. And you keep moving. Quickly. To the next project, the next promotion, the next big event in your career timeline. And despite our ever connected world, your “people” aren’t always keeping up with you. They are busy doing their own thing. They are managing, ignoring or driving their own change.
So it certainly is within the realm of high probability that the same is happening each time you make an internal change that the external world doesn’t catch. It can happen when you downplay an underperforming product and introduce a new version that seems perfectly different in your eyes. But does your customer see it that way? Has the outside really caught on to what has changed on the inside? Have they heard you? Same goes for renewed branding. Brands are living breathing change mongers, too – and it can take the world a while to catch on.
The point is, it’s all about communication. Unfortunately, in this day of content driven marketing, we are actually communicating less. We think more content means more of our “people” – the customers, prospects, employees, connections, reporters, bloggers, analysts, friends and well, strangers that review our content – will hear us even better. In reality, they are hearing less because everyone is shouting out their changes at rapid fire. There is so much content today, it is increasingly challenging to hear above the noise.
And every expert wants to sell you the golden ticket for cutting through the clutter. I suppose I’m no different. I believe by coupling today’s communication techniques with the wisdom of experienced learnings, my clients can be heard. I certainly love the challenge of it anyway. But I don’t need to sell you on the need for communication because really, it is just common sense.
So I leave you with these reminders about communicating any change. It’s not rocket-science. Never was. It is what we all know but don’t apply. The New Year would be a great time to remind ourselves of that.
5 Common Sense Reminders about Change Communication
- COM 101: Sender/Message – Receiver/Acknowledgement. One continuous circle. If you aren’t hearing any response, your message isn’t resonating.
- Really know your audience – Sure, we all know no one can afford to market today without segmentation, but there’s still a lot of room to actually understand the nuances of the individuals within that segment and what makes them tick.
- Match your message to the listener – You naturally use different language when you explain what you do to a prospect than say, your mother-in-law or the kid next door. Take a tip from PR: know multiple ways to deliver the same message in a different way (and while you’re at it, match the channel you will use, i.e. video, mobile, social media, print, etc. to the target, too).
- Content must be valuable to the listener – Duh. Despite all our blogging and wisdom sharing, it’s still not about what we want to say. It’s about what will be the most valued by the listener. Match the content to where they are on the cycle of change (particularly for internal change communication). If you’ve done your research on #2 and #3, you will build better content.
- It’s storytelling that draws us in. Content management isn’t all that different to other in vogue processes of the past (remember IMC?). Beyond greater measurability, the real difference today is the acknowledgement (finally!) that delivering an honest and interesting story is the caveat to engaging communication.
What other common sense approaches do you use to dialogue about change?