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!

What style of language do scientists really prefer?

The evidence is in: scientists prefer clarity in technical and scientific communication .

Stroppy Editor

“Our readers are intelligent, well-educated scientists. Why should we make our language dumbed-down, patronising and imprecise in the name of ‘readability’?”

It’s a fair question. Here’s the answer.

Never talk down to your readers. But never waste their time, either. And scientists, while intelligent and educated, are also busy. As well as their research, they may have teaching, management or clinical duties to perform, funding applications to write, presentations to plan, journals to keep up to date with… They don’t have time to wade through verbiage in search of facts.

If you’re writing about something complex, then of course you need to give all the necessary detail. If you’re writing for specialists, you can use their specialist terms. But you don’t need to add verbal complexity beyond that. Keep it clear and direct. This makes your writing more efficient and more likely to succeed in communicating your message. It’s also…

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How stories are told around the world

Sensemaking takes many forms.

ideas.ted.com

It’s said there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love, once you’ve heard their story. Dave Isay knows that. The ability to honor every human by listening to what they have to say about themselves is central to StoryCorps, the nonprofit he founded in 2003.

The premise of StoryCorps is simple: One person interviews another and their conversation is recorded for posterity. It’s a strikingly straightforward proposition. But then, storytelling has always been less about glitz or gadgetry and more about connection and communication. No matter the tech, humans have invariably figured out a compelling way to tell each other stories.

That’s not to say we all tell stories the same way. Far from it. As Kay Turner, a folklorist and independent scholar who’s on the board of the New York Folklore Society, notes, “Even if a story is the same, each culture will tell it differently, because…

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Making your message work for everyone

There is a well known Indian folk story that describes how a group of blind men who encounter an elephant all have very different descriptions based on their individual experience of the parts, rather than the whole. When we communicate, it is important to break down ‘the elephant’ into the parts that make the most sense to the most people.

The 4C Communication test ensures that your messages are clear enough to describe the whole to four very different people.

4C Communication Test

  • A colleague: This tests clarity and depth of understanding. It is the ‘fact check’ version of a message. A colleague will be able to understand the concepts and the detail of the message. Framing your message for a colleague tests for credibility.
  • A child: This forces us to use the most essential elements to create a simple message. Simultaneously conceptual and concrete, the ‘for a child’ test is a challenge of eliminating all but the core. Framing your message for a child tests simplicity.
  • A customer: This message test asks us to focus on the ‘so what’ of a message and to consider the relevance to the ‘other’. How does this help me? Why should I care? Framing your message for a customer tests relevance.
  • A cab driver: Be prepared to explain yourself and to hear a counter-perspective*. Does your message stand up to the scrutiny of a stranger? Framing your message for a cab driver tests for opposition.

There are other variations of this. Consider the personas that would be useful tests in your environment.

*In no way am I suggesting that cab drivers are essentially argumentative. However, my unscientific sampling spread over many years would indicate that many are conversationalists who have a sense of public opinion, often based on talk radio. 

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.