Three blogs on the Back to the Future thing that are worth your travel time #bttfd

Topical, light-hearted and listicle friendly. That is why Back to the Future Day has given the whole content marketing tribe a little shot of Pepsi and a jolt of lightning.

Aside from the ‘what they got right and wrong about the future’ trope that has even the scientist-communicators on board, it is an opportunity for reflection on what has changed in culture – and in specific industries – since then.

Communicators and marketers are no exception. Here are three #bttfd pieces that are worth your travel time.

All Things IC

An early contender, Rachel Miller came out strong with a piece on timeless advice for communication professionals.

The future may not be here as it was imagined in the films, but I think it’s an exciting time to be working in the field of communication and be interested in all things technology related.

I agree with much of Rachel’s list of timeless principles for Internal Communication, including

  • Trust is the currency of communication.
  • There’s no such thing as purely ‘internal’ communication.
  • Don’t view communication as something you do to employees, but for and with them.
  • The role of professional communicators has shifted from content creatorsto content curators.
  • Work is a thing you do, not a place you go.

See her full article for more advice.

B and T

B and T have taken the opportunity to look at the marketing efforts around the date, including the emphasis on digital, and the need to develop marketer’s skills in a changing world, through a guest post from ADMA CEO, Jodie Sangster.

It is striking in the number of available and cross-channel consumer touch points the campaign will to reach today versus the number that existed when the movies was released in 1989. Digital, social, video and mobile were, in some cases, decades away (CEO of Snapchat Evan Spiegel was yet to be born) and the idea brands would have access to terabytes of data, most of which has been generated in the last few years alone, would be as fanciful as Marty’s hover-board.

Read the full piece at B&T.

The Conversation

And rather than looking back, The Conversation has invited some of the brightest future focussed researchers, thinkers and academics to consider what will things look like in 30 years time.

Digital everpresence will disturb existing political systems enabling individuals to transcend territorial boundaries and wield digital influence outside of the nation state. Everpresent personas will disrupt domestic political orders transforming the Earth. Thas Nirmalathas, Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, University of Melbourne

A thought-provoking read at the intersection of speculation and technological progress.

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”?

The cost of collaborating poorly

Graphic designers… from imgur user Abaft.

This post from imgur user Abaft really made me chuckle when I first saw it. Recently I have been working with a range of creative suppliers: designers, social, content, web, and it made me think of the feedback sessions we have. In communication and change, we (as clients) often have a very specific idea of what we want the outcome to look like, and sometimes it takes a few goes to get there.

But behind the humour, I think this image says something more serious about the challenges that crop up between communication craft and communication strategy. It made me wonder if designer has missed an opportunity to help the client through the non-creative part of our job: coach, strategist, advisor. Because the rework (sometimes) comes from having missed something in the brief.

Unlike the trusted creatives I am lucky to work with, the creator of this fee scale has not ensured clarity and trust from the client before the design process gets underway.

A little bit of knowledge goes a long way when shaping a brief – understanding the creative process as a client helps us (as clients) understand what is possible and what is not. Too much knowledge, and we become perfectionists unable to articulate our goals, and our preferences. In a creative process, we all bring bias and personal taste to the room, and it is the job of the designer to help the client through this by explaining the process.

Spend time upfront in establishing a strong rapport. Spend the time clarifying the outcomes and the brief. Spend the time in giving the feedback.

This fee scale would look different if it drew on the sweet spot where collaboration occurs.

Once there is trust, clarity about the problem to be solved, and collaboration toward creating solutions, then there is the space for the designer (or a writer, or a coder, or any professional service provider) to deliver.

Collaboration doesn’t mean all being in the room at the same time all of the time. It means ensuring that the range of skills and ideas of the co-creators are able to be brought to bear at the right time in the process.

As clients, our job isn’t to be sitting on their shoulder. It is to ensure our creatives understand what they are collaborating with us to create. And to trust their process when it leads to a better outcome.

How CEOs can update their approach to communication

“Communications is an undervalued, lightly regarded discipline in the theory and practice of corporate leadership” writes Walter G. Montgomery in an excellent piece in Knowledge@Wharton, How CEOs Can Adopt a 21st-century Approach to Communication.

Montgomery, Organizational Communication

Walter G Montgomery on CEO communication

He provides six requirements for CEOs needing to increase the strategic focus for communication as a business differentiator:

  • Clearly and repeatedly send the message that communication is valued and essential – including as a requirement for career advancement.
  • Be scientific about effective communication – new advances in data science and cognitive studies should form a part of effective communication design.
  • View the communication environment holistically and assess it as such – it isn’t outsourced to a comms team.
  • Skill build for all with a communication responsibility.
  • Make the top communication job a strategic one.
  •  Focus tightly on values through communication activity.

Read the full article.

Upworthy are sorry for the clickbait, and you won’t believe what they are doing next (It’s storytelling)

We have all seen the shift in ‘content marketing’ that was driven by Upworthy’s radical A/B Testing (A/B/C/D/E/F/G Testing) of headlines that led to massive growth in their media platform. The unintended consequence was a mass adoption of the method and metrics by every content marketer striving to increase traffic.

Now, in this apology (and infinitely shareable strategic repositioning statement) from Editorial Director Amy O’Leary, Upworthy are entering the already crowded ‘Storytelling’ market.

The point of difference appears to be in their perspective on bringing the best of the craft of storytelling to the emerging area of data driven stories. It’s not an entirely new idea (as this 2013 blog post from Juice Analytics illustrates) but given Upworthy’s proven ability to have a game changing impact on content sharing, this will be a space to watch.

Everything Changes: The new role of communicators in navigating complexity

The Government Communications Conference #GCASYD2015 has been an inspiring collection of great practice.

My messages for communicators is simple.

  • Change isn’t as hard as we make out, except when we stuff it up within organisations.
  • As communicators, we have a responsibility to help our audiences, customers and partners to sense-make.
  • It’s about context.
  • Comms people need a broader toolkit and skills base to help sensemake in complexity.

Time for comms to be flexible, agile and adaptable.

The shorter COMMS plan is one tool for managing the complexity of change.

References and additional information

Why the 70% of change fails stat is BS

Jennifer Frahm, Conversations of Change

http://conversationsofchange.com.au/2013/09/02/70-of-change-projects-fail-bollocks1/

How to apply PEST for strategic planning

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_09.htm

The digital divide – Australian’s not connected to internet and digital services

https://theconversation.com/au/topics/digital-divide

Hacktivism as a force for good – Gov Hack 2015

http://www.govhack.org

TEDxParramatta

http://tedxparramatta.com

Hyundai’s message to space

www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EOAXrTrsOE

The rise of mainstream media directly linking to User Generated Content

http://eyewitnessmediahub.com/research/user-generated-content

What is Bitcoin?

https://bitcoin.org/en/faq

Automated email personalisation

http://www.wired.com/2015/04/write-perfect-email-anyone-creepy-site/

Gartner Hype Cycle Research

http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/hype-cycles/

Gaping Void

http://gapingvoid.com/blog/

Edelman Trust Baromoter

http://www.edelman.com.au/trust/

Austin Kleon, Steal Like and Artist

http://austinkleon.com/steal/

Everything is a remix, by Kirby Ferguson

http://everythingisaremix.info

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!