Every business in every industry is increasingly confronted with change. Technological, competitive, policy, climate, generational – change comes from many directions. But the major barrier to transformation is the emotions of the people involved. Budget and time constraints are common excuses, but the real barrier is the fear of change which anchors businesses in old patterns of behaviour, perception and therefore performance. The stark reality according to research from McKinsey is that 70% of all internal business transformation fails.
It doesn’t need to be this way. As humans, we’re good at adapting. Our minds can be trained to thrive in change under the right conditions. So, before you seek to change you must first deal with the fear of change.
Here are six rules to ensure you’re associated with one of the 30% of business transformations that do succeed.
Step One: Keep it simple
Leaders communicate using their personal verbal, auditory and kinaesthetic cues; but keeping the message very simple is critical. After all, your audience’s minds are bombarded with thousands of messages every day and what you say is not necessarily registering as fully or in the pure way you intend it.
Step Two: Make strategy visual
Change can be both real and imagined. A perceived threat may conjure mental images which have little to do with the message you were trying to convey. To prevent this, use highly visual concepts that stick in the mind. Think of Donald Trump’s border wall. Now try and visualise Hillary Clinton’s main policies. Not so easy?
It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.
— Charles Darwin
Step Three: Focus on benefits
Both internal and external audiences need to be told what’s in it for them personally. Instead, many businesses fall into the trap of talking about their features. In part, this is because they’re focused on sharing their model with the world.
It’s also encouraged by SEO requirements that dumb down offerings to a set of generic terms that are no different to competitors. Getting the obligatory keywords into your introductory paragraphs so you rank higher in Google is never going to beat catering directly to specific user groups via their own desired benefits.
Step Four: Develop a prototype
A believable change program doesn’t ask to be believed. It demonstrates efficacy through a pilot program or product prototype that is quickly, cheaply and easily implemented. It involves only a few team members who are typically the most engaged, and measures progress with this group before rolling out.
Step Five: Break it into sprints
People relax when they know not everything has to happen at once. The sprint plan should lay out strategic priorities of each stage, as well as time periods, costs, roles and responsibilities, milestones, metrics, targets and celebrations. Make it very simple and graphic. If it can be summarised on one page, that is ideal.
Step Six: Give permission to engage
You know that change has been embraced when the team is acting on it of their own free will. This is motivated by giving the team permission to contribute ideas and actions that will bring the positioning to life. This can be implemented with a wider culture program that rewards on-brand behaviours.
These six steps augment the traditional business strategy process and give some framework for communicating the vision and strategy in the most calming manner possible.
If strategy can be made simple, visual, benefit-driven, easy to test and stage-out then it will also be engaging – and businesses will be able to overcome their emotional barriers to organisational change.