change

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.

So much information, so little time

Remember a little while back when you couldn’t go to a workshop or a conference on change, leadership, strategy, innovation or communication without the keynote quoting the Shift Happens/Did You Know? research?

I certainly used those numbers on more than one occasion with leaders trying to understand the shifting nature of communication in the social era, and the #futureofwork in a post-global economy. The 2015 version from Erik Qualman has updated references to social marketing and we see the exponential scale of social shift.

But if you want to immerse yourself in the real-time version of this, then interetlivestats.com is your go-to resource.

Watch this number rise for each social platform, realtime.

Watch this number rise for each social platform, realtime.

Here you can watch the sheer overwhelming volume of online activity tick over.

With so much data being created, accrued, shared and stored, it prompts a few questions:

  • how do we focus on the most useful things instead of getting carried with the current?
  • how do we add value to the volume, through interpretation and insight?
  • how do we maintain a voice while recognising ours is one of billions?
  • how do we make sure we are not just adding noise?

These aren’t questions just for communication professionals. They are core questions for us as people in the age of mass data.

Response to ‘Is it time to bin the idea of “Change Management”?’

Employees are human, and their response to change will be driven by that

Employees are human, and their response to change will be driven by that

One of the ironies of change management is that practitioners have the capacity to be resistant to change in their own field.

In this post from Stefan Norrvall from January 2015, there is an argument that it is time to say goodbye to attempting to manage change.

Many change management tools and frameworks seem to come from a view that all change is a top down imposed thing that has to be “sold” to employees or it needs “buy in” from key stakeholders. This just furthers the notion that stakeholder have little input into the change itself and need convincing or manipulation to get into agreement.

Entrenched positions present a problem for all participants in change. Should organisations try to continue to manage change formally, from the top down? The idea is repugnant to Norrval and the #responsiveorg tribe.

Yet we are still not at the stage in most organisations to take away the systems and structures of change that evolved to ensure a balance between participation and deliberative action toward the change outcomes a change program seeks to achieve.

I agree with much of Norrval’s position – change is designed poorly. In so many organisations, change is imposed rather than co-created. Poor strategy leads to poor change management. 

But in the revolution, we need to accept that whether they are the targets of change, or the architects, or the collaborative participants, employees and other organisational agents are human, and their response to the approach to change will be driven first by that.

  • If the context is not clear, people will resist.
  • If the systems and processes of change do not match the scale and nature of change, people will resist.
  • And large scale change (whether an aggregate of small change, or major impacts such as role, location, identity) does have the ability to trigger the human response to loss.

We as change practitioners need to make it simpler – not overly rely on systems and models. But in an effort to be more human in our approach to change we also need to ensure that in replacing ‘change systems’ we don’t simply fail to consider the degree of change required to make this approach a success.

Source: Is it time to bin the idea of “Change Management”?

Roadblock or dead end? Handling setbacks in change communication

A roadblock is a temporary state. A dead end is a point from which one must turn around and go back.

There is a moment in the wonderful Pixar film “A Bug’s Life” which simultaneously parodies the masses of self-help self-talk and provides a very simple mantra for change. A leaf falls into the path of the row of ants who are trying to gather food in time for the bully grasshoppers.

The ants freak out, the trail is broken:
Worker Ant #1: I’m lost! Where’s the line? What do I do?
Worker Ant #2: Help!
Worker Ant #3: We’ll be stuck here forever!
Mr. Soil: Do not panic, do not panic. We are trained professionals. Now, stay calm. We are going around the leaf.

All communication plans – in fact all projects – hit road blocks. There is an art to knowing when a roadblock is a temporary situation that can be addressed, or a true dead end. Even experienced project managers can waste resources – time, money, goodwill and energy by not recognising when a dead end is just that.

How do we recognise a dead end?
The signs are clear – “wrong way, go back”. These signs may be in the language of senior leaders, sponsors or customers. Words like never, can’t, forbid, refuse, may be the verbal equivalent of the dead end, or they may be road blocks, placed in the way because people are yet to understand the change.

“Hang on, doesn’t real change require us to break through and not take ‘no’ for an answer?” I hear you cry. Well, yes and no. Leading, managing and communicating change means that we need to continually search for other ways, and to determine how we go decide when to “go around the leaf” and when to wait for the roadblock to be cleared.

A dead end does not mean that the destination is abandoned. Rather, it means that the route there needs to be different.

A roadblock is a temporary state. #change #meaningbusiness

This post was first published in 2006. It remains totally relevant today!

There is always another way to see things

The colourful dress is a great metaphor for the need to remember that people see the world differently.

The colourful dress is a great metaphor for the need to remember that people see the world differently.

I have known that things aren’t always the way you first see them since I was a child. My rainbow does not look the same as the rainbow that the vast majority of you see. I don’t see the explosion of red when bottlebrush is in season and I am just as likely to be wearing a purple tie thinking it is blue as I am a grey one thinking it is green.

I am colourblind.

For the most part, this colour uncertainty is something curious. The most serious consequences for me included not being able to choose being a pilot, a policeman or an electrical engineer as a career.

During a working bee I once spent half an hour looking for tins of green paint that turned out to be the very same tins of pink paint I had moved aside to commence my search. Other volunteers were dispatched to search for me, and when they arrived, they pointed to the cans that I had placed aside. The look on their face told me they couldn’t understand how I couldn’t see this.

Over the last two days I have found it fascinating to see how people have responded to the #thedress, the phenomenon of the photo of a dress that appears to be different colours depending on the viewer.

Original photo from tumblr user swiked.

What has stood out is the degree that people are ready to become entrenched in their position that the dress either has to be white-gold, or blue-black.

This little internet storm highlights one of the biggest challenges to communication. Everyone who is sure the dress is one colour and not the other (just like the working bee paint rescuer) struggle to accept that there could be another way to see things.

This post from arts and culture site Hyperallergic on the philosophical roots of the reaction to #thedress explores the how these experiences of ‘otherness’ challenge our understanding of the world.

But the gift that I have been given by my other-sightedness is a daily sense that there may be another way. Over the past twenty years, my work as a communicator and change manager is to help leaders, project managers, employees consider that blue might be gold and white might be black.

There is always another way to see something.

It is such a great, simple metaphor for differences in perception. Craig Silverman at Poytner has written a wonderful piece on what the whole episode can teach journalists which I recommend to anyone involved in writing, communicating and change. As Silverman writes:

“The simple truth is our brains process information in ways that can lead us astray. This is something every journalist needs to be aware of and account for in the work we do.”

For the record, I have no opinion either way on the colour of the dress. There are some excellent explainers about the phenomenon from New Scientist and IFLScience.

When to say no to Kotter-style change leadership

The Kotter model of change leadership is excellent for transformational change, but creates problems for communication in organisations when applied to mid-size change. In this extract from the recent webinar ‘The Art of Communication, the Business of Change‘ I explain why.

Audio courtesy of PRIA.

Story wars

Not everything is a story. But ‘story’ is the trend in terms of marketing and digital in particular.

In organisations, there are a few camps in the story wars.

On one side we have the social scientists. In this group we have the behaviourists, the ethnographers, the anthropologists, who consider stories as a way of sense making, and of helping people create meaning (at work and beyond). The humanists. In the workplace, these are the change agents, the organisational psychologists, the culture practitioners.

On the other side we have the marketers. In this group we have the branders, the advertisers, the sales pitch creators. This group understands that stories told well create desires that can be met by products. The sellers. In the workplace, this is the sales and marketing team.

And then we have the creatives. Here are the people who have looked at the craft of story. The writers, illustrators, the performers. The tellers. These practitioners are not limited to one part of an organisation. A leader can be a natural at story performance. A researcher may be adept at finding the story within the data.

Types of storytelling

Daniel Pink tried to bridge these worlds in his book To Sell Is Human. He equates the process of storytelling with the need to create currency for ideas and in terms ‘trade’: we all try to persuade, every day. There is such mixed practice around what stories are and how they are used that frustrations sometimes boil over, as in this slightly NSFW argument by designer Stefan Sagmeister at a conference earlier this year.

Trevor Young, AKA the PR Warrior provides a pragmatic definition of organisational storytelling, the sweet spot between all the definitions in a recent post on this topic.

smart organisations look to storytelling as a way to gain a competitive advantage and use stories to help differentiate their brand in the marketplace; to be successful, these stories – and the perpetuation of them in the community in which they operate – need an organisation’s employees and partners to become involved. Essentially, it becomes a cultural thing.

Many communicators are caught between these worlds, and in the skirmishes. The challenge is to remember that in organisations we communicate for a purpose. Communicators have to find a path between these different forms of sense-making. They have to wear all of the ‘story’ hats and understand the difference between story sharing as culture, storytelling as motivation, and story as information.

Everyone IS a storyteller, because we are human. It is impossible for us not to tell stories. But there is a difference in kind between sharing stories around the contemporary campfire –  the dinner table, the water cooler, and sharing them in a public space (whether that space is real or virtual).

 

The changing world of change communication

Communication professionals are in the business of change. We design campaigns to understand perceptions and attitudes. At our best, we can contribute to shifting understanding, increasing awareness and influencing intentions.

Intent is key for internal communication. We communicate to create change.

Intent is key for internal communication. We communicate to create change.

And yet, when it comes to the processes of managing change within organisations, the world of communication and the world of change can seem like different planets.

Short-term versus long term

PR – particularly when not in-house- is frequently a short-cycle activity. Communicators get in, understand a problem, an issue or a stance, manage our campaign, and then get out again.

Three years ago, I was facilitating a discussion with communication professionals about the differences between internal communication and external communication, and why specialists in the two fields don’t always see eye to eye. One very experienced practioner summed up the challenge well. At the risk of making broad generalisations, he indicated that external comms practitioners are adept at short cycle communication, deep diving into an issue as required, working with the news cycle and then moving on to the next issue. By contrast, he felt that internal communicators may be used to longer time scales for achieving changes in culture or engagement, looking holistically at the interdependencies and ongoing employee experience.

Historically that may have been correct, but communicators need to be agile when communicating change internally and externally. This means being adaptable and responsive to circumstances that may be constantly evolving. It requires communicators to be active agents of change.

Change agents and Change Agents

Organisational development and transformational change, process change, operational change management: each are different varieties of change that rely on different communication methods and approaches.

There is more to managing (most types of) change than communication alone. Understanding the key steps in the change management process, the different types of organisational change, and the key roles for leadership, communication, training and even HR, helps create the partnerships that lead to effective change.

We explored these ideas and more in the  PRIA webinar, The Business of Change, The Art of Communication on 14 November. PRIA members will ion be able to access the webinar recording, and the slideshare is available.

In the session, we defined and aligned approaches to change communication for in-house practitioners working on major projects, PR and comms professionals who are part of an agency response to change, or even managing changes in your own business.