Change programmes come into Companies in various guises. Some are a result of a missed opportunity or missed target. Others the result of acquiring or being acquired. Some, simply through product changes or new personnel. At the extreme end are those forced as a result of an often invasive consulting process, whereby your people are already offside before you start.

So it is important to think about the impact of such activity on your people, and how to give yourself the best chance at success by bringing them along.

When you think about it, with any change programme, you are asking your people to change the way they do things or to do different things. In other words, you are asking them to change their work habits.

Communicating the plan once, and expecting your people to follow every word is therefore a recipe for failure. Think about the steps you need to take to change any other habit. Whether it is changing your diet, quitting smoking or getting off the couch to take up an exercise programme. In those cases you are constantly revisiting your goals or aspirations (in other words asking ‘why am I doing this to myself’), you have a clear plan of what you have to do each day, and you monitor your performance against that plan and those goals constantly. If you don’t you will fail.

So why should it be any different in business? After all, we are asking people to change their workplace habits. If we don’t get this right, then our people will go back to the old habits very quickly, in fact as quickly as you can say “I give up”.

In other words, we need to create an environment where people understand our goals and our plan to achieve them. Only then will they feel that they can ‘get on board’.

Most important is to help them to understand what the reason is for the change. It may be any one of the a multitude of reasons that drives these decisions, including the following:

  1. That your core product is losing market share;
  2. You are losing money;
  3. You are not hitting your profit targets;
  4. The opposition have improved and you need to too;
  5. Your customer satisfaction performance is low;
  6. You have had a change of leadership and the ‘new guy’ wants to do it a different way;
  7. Shareholders aren’t happy and you have to try new things;
  8. You have bought another business and you need to get economies of scale to speed up the payback;
  9. Another company has bought you;

….. and so on.

In my experience, your people will be incredibly supportive if they understand what you are trying to do and your reasons for doing it. So here are some questions to start the conversation. If every person at every level can answer these, then you have a chance of ensuring that your people are able to play their part in the change process. So, I suggest that you get out amongst your team and start answering the following for them:

  1. What are we trying to do?
  2. Why are we doing this?
  3. What are we going to do differently?
  4. How will this plan help us to achieve our goals or overcome the problem?
  5. What is my role in making the changes?
  6. What does my role look like at the end of this?
  7. How will we know when we have succeeded?
  8. Who is in charge of the process?
  9. Who do I talk to if I am having trouble?

Doing this once won’t be enough. It is no different to the new diet or going to the gym. People need to be continuously reminded as to why they are doing new stuff, in order to prevent them from going back to the old habits.

Remember, when it comes to communication, the only rule that works is this:

“Always assume the message doesn’t get through”.
In other words, communicate, communicate, communicate. Over and over again until the programme is successful. You have to be continually reminding people of what you are trying to achieve and why, as well as constantly confirming their importance in the process.
© Bruce Cotterill