One of the more popular quotes attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus is this one:
“There is nothing permanent except change.”
Were he alive today, my guess is that he might be adding a new quote: “Dude, there’s change, but then there’s CHANGE!” And that one would probably become an Internet meme.
As if mergers and acquisitions, new operating models, major technology implementations and other “normal” triggers aren’t enough – the global pandemic, social unrest and the possibility of an altered political and regulatory landscape have compelled today’s executives to confront the need for radical change in their organizations.
Heraclitus would be giving them a knowing wink and a nod.
Regardless of reason, a company’s ability to successfully manage change is driven directly by its ability to bring stakeholders along for the ride – customers, investors, influencers and now more than ever employees. This must extend beyond just awareness that change is happening, but include understanding, believing, embracing and ultimately acting in a way that makes the change stick. Do it well, and you seize the opportunity. Do it poorly, and the business will be at risk.
If you are involved in the change management field, you know that there are numerous operating models – ADKAR, Kubler-Ross, Lewin and many others. They all have their merits, but regardless of which your organization follows, experts believe that most of these efforts fail to achieve their full benefit – largely because of internal resistance. When employees, in particular, understand the context of the change, the strategy for achieving it and the “what’s in it for me,” they are more likely to adopt, adapt and activate quickly, effectively and willingly.
Whether the change you need to drive is with employees, customers, partners, other stakeholders or “all of the above,” there are a few key principles that should be present in any communications strategy:
Illustrate the Why. Another pretty famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, highlighted the need for Ethos, Pathos and Logos (experience, logic and emotion) as a foundation for persuasion. You need to incorporate all three into your rationale for change.
Make it About Them. While the need for change may be important for you, it will only stick if you demonstrate why it’s important to them – helping stakeholders understand the need and why the change will be better for them.
Go Beyond “Support.” Get specific about the actions you want the stakeholder to take – what do you want them to start doing, stop doing, continue doing or let you do? That’s the foundation for strong calls to action that make the change real.
Paint a Vision. Show the stakeholder what the end game looks like and manage expectations along the way. Transformational change is messy, it takes time and there are setbacks. You don’t want one delay or hiccup to put the whole effort at risk.
Prepare People Leaders. People listen to executives, but they most often trust those closest to them. Managers and supervisors can make or break change initiatives, as they are on the front lines with employees and customers. Equip them with the training and tools to make them your most effective ambassadors.
The unexpected year that we’ve had is causing nearly every organization to step back, take stock and facilitate change that will prepare it for new and rolling realities. Pairing sound change management practices with a strategic, action-focused communications approach will greatly increase the likelihood of long-term success.
About the Author: Matt Kucharski is president of Padilla, a top brand and strategic communications firm that helps clients build, grow and protect their brands and reputations during times of major transformation. Padilla is an AVENIR GLOBAL company and a founding partner in the Worldcom Public Relations Group.