change

Getting ready for next

How can communicators use the transition from current COVID-19 circumstances as a way of thinking about what is holding us back and what is possible for the next phase of communication in our organisations?

We continue to be living and working in unprecedented times. As part of the recent round of IABC APAC Region meetups during COVID-19, and in working with clients and colleagues in Australia, in the region and globally, I am acutely aware of my fortune. As countries move through their national stages of pandemic response (and other significant challenges) I’ve listened to stories and experiences of other communication and change professionals.

My personal belief is that it’s not the right time to be making hard or universal predictions on what’s next. Instead, here’s a framing tool to consider what to keep and what to leave behind. It’s an exercise I’ve used in other settings and it’s got great potential for asking ourselves and our organisations two questions as we move to whatever ‘next’ is. In this 16 minute discussion, I look at why there is no ‘new normal’, at how communicators can use this time as a way of making choices about their practice and in how that same approach can apply to the communication industry more broadly. I’d love to know your thoughts and to continue the conversation.

How to decide what to keep and what to let go of as we move to the next phase of COVID-19

Three strategies for embedding CSR through better communication and design

A simpler CSR

A simpler CSR approach.

One of the greatest challenges for employee communication in any organisation is information overload. A consistent theme from communication research is that often in organisations there is too much of the wrong information.

Line managers and employees in many organisations struggle with complexity.

They have a single consistent, valid request

make it easier for me

What has led to this situation?

Change. Changes to processes, products and procedures. Changes to the markets that companies operate in. Changes to regulations. Customer expectations. Social and political change. Technology. Technology. Technology.

Against this background, asking employees to focus on ‘another thing’ can be a challenge.

In addition to the number one rule for employee communication* there are three things organisations can do to ensure the CSR&S initiatives achieve the outcomes they need to for the company and its stakeholders (including employees).

*The number one rule is ‘make it relevant, make it simple’.

1. Have a few clear strategic messages that are reinforced all the time

Provide the ‘why’ for your whole CSR program in a consistent way.

Many CSR&S strategies are comprehensive documents that run to many pages, are produced, launched and then fall stagnant until the next reporting period. For CSR&S to come to life, a clear narrative is required that is reinforced consistently through leadership communication, as well as in other channels.

If CSR&S is not a key strategic focus for a company, it is essential for leaders to find ways to incorporate it.

Example

A mid size professional services firm develop a comprehensive CSR three year plan. The strategy recommendations include:

  • policy changes for procurement
  • changes to energy supply for regional offices
  • a customer charter that addresses client groups with specific CSR challenges
  • a scorecard for governance
  • plans for corporate relocation to sustainable headquarters
  • new approaches to succession planning for the partner group and
  • support for leading practice labour and OHS programs.

Individually, not all employees will be impacted in the same way by these initiatives. Expecting the whole of firm to be across every aspect when it is not their core business has a potential to feed the information overload and reduce engagement.

However, the key message for the strategy and for all leaders to continue to reinforce is:

Our business strategy recognises the benefits of a comprehensive approach to CSR. The outcomes of this strategic approach will include financial benefits, reputational benefits with clients and opportunities for employee development.

Individual projects or changes can be communicated in the most effective way according to the type of change outcomes, the audiences, and the available channels.

These subsequent changes are then congruent with the message from the CEO through to every line manager that ‘We treat CSR as an important part of our business.’

2. Be clear about what ‘engagement’ with CSR programs looks like.

Define ‘what’ people need to do differently.

Traditionally, employee communication has focused on the hearts and minds of employees, getting people to ‘buy in’ to changes or initiatives. An increasing body of research shows that getting people to take an action is more powerful at shaping their perceptions. Instead of ‘think, feel, do’, it is more effective to get people to ‘do, feel, think’.

In order for employees to engage with CSR&S initiatives, it is essential to be clear about what that engagement looks like. What will people be doing? How is that different to today?

As a result of the program do you need employees to:

  • Start following a new process
  • Reduce waste through using workplace procurement and cleaning vendors
  • Stop acquiring clients from unsustainable industries
  • Share or record information for reporting

Many ‘communication problems’ are actually process issues. With smart process design, sometimes communication is barely necessary. Make it easier for employees to take the actions required.

3. Use good design to enable action

Make the ‘how’ intuitive and simple to do.

Well-designed processes, procedures, systems and tools reduce the volume of communication needed.

There is no training manual for how we use a social media tool such as Facebook, or our smart phones or the motor registry queue. In the best cases, taking the necessary action ‘just makes sense’.

Originally focused on online channels, increasingly, user experience (UX) or customer experience (CX) design methods are being used as part other kinds of change.

  • Instructions tend to be build into processes
  • The online component is seamless
  • Visual communication provides clear clues to action
  • Operational instructions are just in time, rather than relying on people knowing how to do something just in case.

Better communication comes with better strategy

Unless CSR is treated strategically, there is a risk that communication about initiatives, processes and programs will get lost in the competition for a share of employee attention.

Addressing some types of CSR&S efforts require organisations to rethink their operations at a broader scale.

  • Communication can go part of the way. Without visible, sleeves-rolled-up leadership, the best communication program cannot sustainably embed CSR into everyday activities.
  • Being clear about what people will do differently by adopting new CSR programs and processes helps communication be clear, targeted, and enable action.
  • Better process design will make it easier for employees to take action with CSR programs, allowing for a focus on the big picture messages about the benefits of better CSR.

 

When the Kotter change model creates a disconnect for mid-size change

Applying the Kotter eight-step model indiscriminately to project-level initiatives and operational change leads to challenges.

Generating a ‘sense of urgency’ for mid-level changes creates unnecessary competition for share of mind.

In a typical large organisation undergoing transformation, there are likely to be dozens of project-level initiatives and concurrent operational change.

The paradox of change urgency (1)There is a paradox. Urgency at an organisational, strategic level provides momentum for the projects and initiatives that are necessary at the deeper levels of the structure. However, at an operational level, the sense of urgency translates into confusion and an inability to absorb the change impacts.

The underlying need for change at the project or operational level needs to be rolled up to the overall strategic imperative. Creating urgency around the detail of the change creates noise. This manifests itself as an increased request for project branding, change-specific communication channels.

Solutions include:

  • Ensure that the narrative of urgency remains at the enterprise level
  • ‘Bundle’ change impacts across programs
  • Implement at an operational or individual level as rapidly as possible based on the capacity for change

Institute change by designing for action

Consider the broader world beyond organisational life. As citizens and consumers, we conduct all kinds of complex behaviours and transactions ‘online’. The online environment changes constantly. Yet there is no change management plan for ‘the internet.’ Methodologies such at UX and User-Centered Design ensure that (successful) apps or sites or technologies are intuitive and based on making action easy to complete.

These disciplines do not apply only to online and technological change. The ability to design the ‘pointy end’ of change within organisations in a way that enables action at the right time without requiring substantial training or commitment becomes an opportunity for making continual concurrent change something that is easy to digest.

As Bill Quirke writes in Making the Connections, “Organisations are short changing themselves by not seeing communication through to the end – converting awareness into action. The real value of internal communication is to help business ends by enabling employees to turn strategy into action” (Quirke, 2008).

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce.

3 Keys to managing multiple change projects in changing contexts

Why change is complex...

Why change is complex…

Writing in Accelerate/XLR8 (2014), Kotter recognised complexity and the shifts in organisational structure and networks, and the need for agile methods of mobilising people within the organisation.

In practice, change at the project level has three qualities that can complicate the effective management and delivery of benefits or the desired outcomes.

Concurrent – there are seldom single projects underway in an organisation. Depending on the degree of internal organisation and prioritisation, these initiatives may or may not be coordinated.

Continuous – while individual projects come to an end (and ideally deliver their targeted benefits), there are typically a sequence of projects being rolled
out. There is no fixed future state, only a series of iterations. The idea of ‘versions’ of the future state is a powerful metaphor for this: change version X.X.

Compound – change impacts from one initiative have flow-on implications for other initiatives. When delivered top-down, the aggregate compound impact of change can be miscalculated. This can be an overestimation of the ability to absorb change at an individual level, or it can be a failure to calculate capacity for the impacts of accumulated incremental change.

In the most effective organisations there is coordination of impacts across the range of concurrent projects. There is strategic value in effective governance that provides alignment of the intention of transformation with the operational reality of the ‘current state’ organisation.

This is an excerpt from my chapter Kotter in context: is the classic change model damaging your mid-size change? in A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, edited by Craig Pearce, a free resource packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.