KF: Welcome to Formulations. I’m your host, Kevin Fernando, and today we’ll be speaking to ThoughtForm’s Marketing Director, Marisa Boevers, about change management.
Why is change management so hard?
KF: To kick us off, why is change management so hard?
MB: So, I think it’s a combination of two things. The first thing I think is that in order to be successful with change, you have to—whatever group is involved in the change, whether that’s a group of one, or millions—you have to have three things, and you have to have them all at the same time. You have to have a What—the vision of what we’re moving towards. You also have to have a Why—why make this change, why are we moving towards this future state vision. Then you have to have all of the How—the tools and the mechanisms and the processes that will allow you to get to that What.
Having all three of those things in place at the same time, in a way that works for everyone involved, is tricky. It’s easier said than done. So I think that’s part of the reason why change is so hard, whether it’s for an individual, or for a small group, or for a large group.
It’s not just say it and be done, you have to work at it.
Another thing that’s hard about change is that it often requires effort. Sometimes it requires a short burst of effort, and sometimes it requires a long, sustained effort. In either case, it’s not just say it and be done, you have to work at it. Often it’s on top of things we’re already working at, and already doing. So it becomes this burden where it’s easy to let it get pushed to the side. I think that those things in combination, there’s no magic, but it requires effort and there are things you have to do in order to make it happen. And those things are hard, and we should acknowledge that.
KF: Yeah definitely. And it seems like a lot of the time you see people kind of struggling with these change management issues, it seems like communication can really help fill the gaps there.
Why is communication so crucial?
KF: So why is communication so crucial?
MB: Communication to me is the only way—that I am aware of—that two or more people can share information or ideas. Whether that’s words or talking or text or pictures… There’s no other way for me to let you know what I’m thinking or feeling without communicating. Right? Or to tell you what I know without communicating. Until we’ve developed some sort of telepathy, we’re going to rely on communication. Any time two or more people want to do something, they have to communicate.
I think that change is almost always about two or more people. Every once in a while you’re getting into a change that’s just about yourself, and if it’s clear in your mind, then you don’t need to worry about communication. As soon as the change you want to effect involves you or your team, or your boss, or anyone else inside of your organization, or your life, you got to be able to communicate. You gotta go back to that “What is it, Why are we doing it, and How are we going to make it happen?” And without communication—clear communication—you’re just never going to make the change happen.
KF: You know I’ve heard you talking about this before…
MB: I often repeat myself!
KF: Well this is an ongoing conversation we’ve been having this month, with change management kind of being our theme. But I’ve heard you put it into the frame of “selling.” You want to have everyone understand, but you don’t want to sell it. What do you mean by that?
MB: So earlier this month, I was doing a talk, and I got a question at the end from the audience about how to sell an idea, how to sell change management. I have a real reaction to the word “selling.” To me, whenever I hear someone talking about selling an idea to their organization, especially when talking about selling to their team, their employees, their associates, to people underneath them in the organization, often I think that they are talking about: How can I convince them, how can I persuade them. I think that when we start to have that mindset, we start to think less of our employees. We start to dumb information down. To push it, we focus on only the positive, king of Pollyanna-ish side of it. We forget to acknowledge the reality.
So for me, when someone talks about selling within the organization, I think it’s a codeword for: I don’t really trust my employees to understand the larger context, and understand their behaviors, I just want to make them feel good and get them on the team.
If your motivations are correctly aligned to their motivations, you won’t need to sell it. They’ll sign themselves up.
So I don’t like to think about selling a change, I think you need to lay out a clear, compelling case for the change, you need to have that compelling vision, an understanding of where we’re all going. You need to acknowledge the challenges, the potential pitfalls maybe some of those trade-offs. But when you get into a sort of selling mentality, I think you often start to think of your employees as not up to the mental challenge of understanding the complexity, and it always backfires. Whenever you assume that the people you are talking to are not as smart as you, or can’t wrap their arms around the big picture, then it doesn’t pass the sniff test.
So instead of selling change, we ought to present a clear, compelling case for change. And let people make their own decisions, and if your change is good, and your motivations are correctly aligned to their motivations, you won’t need to sell it. They’ll sign themselves up.
The role of visual communication
KF: What sort of role does visual communication play in building that case?
MB: I think that visual communication is in many ways the best kind of communication, we understand visuals so well, we’re sort of hardwired for it. Visual communication gives us a lot of nuance, it allows us to understand things that words often struggle to convey. I think for change especially, visual communication is so great because it makes phrases and ideas that often feel intangible, much more tangible.
I’ll give you an example. Say at an organization, the CEO gets up and says, “We are going to become a digital organization that is customer centric and agile and ready to meet 21st Century demands.” That’s a very nice phrase, and it’s not that it doesn’t have any meaning, it’s actually that it has thousands of meanings. It’s not very specific, it’s very ephemeral, what means agile to you might be different to me. How do I apply customer centric to my role, I’m in accounting, or I’m an actuary, or I make the widgets!
I think that it’s very difficult, whereas if you can present a more tangible vision, a picture that shows here in the organization are the behaviors and actions that we want our organization to take—or your team, or even you as an individual—to be agile, to be digitally transformed and ready to meet the 21st century challenges. Any time you can bring specificity to that what, it really helps people to understand what you expect from them, and the motivations flow down from that.
Visual communication gives us a lot of nuance, it allows us to understand things that words often struggle to convey.
So I think that’s why visual communication is so important for change, and I think that in developing that picture, not that it’s easy to develop the high level strategy of we’re going to be customer-centric and agile, but there’s a lot of roll up your sleeves work in coming up with that physical, tangible description of what the future state is like. I find that with teams that I work with, it makes them much more clear.
They say “I haven’t considered that” or “I wasn’t sure how that was going to work, but now we can have a meaningful, productive conversation,” or “Before we can take it out to the broader organization, we can have it clear in our own minds, this is what we mean when we say agile and customer centric.” You know, it helps to make it clear in your own mind, and in your audiences’ minds.
KF: That makes a lot of sense.
Change Communication Tip
KF: To wrap up, if we can leave our audience with one tip, what would that tip be?
MB: I think that especially with change communication—I think this is true for any kind of communication, but especially for change communication—so often, the teams that enact the change are afraid to be truly honest. I think transparencey has become a buzzword and a lot of companies want to be transparent. But when you’re really transparent, you have to acknowledge that things can go wrong. There are challenges as we make this change, there are traps we can fall into. Maybe we’ve made mistakes in the past, and we have to acknowledge: Hey we did this and it didn’t go so well, here’s why it didn’t go so well, and to be honest about those things.
So often, the teams that enact the change are afraid to be truly honest
Also to acknowledge that change often is 80% good and 20% bad. It’s rarely a complete win-win. If we’re going to reduce the workforce by 10% to save 90%, you know, those 10%—they lost their jobs. Or, you know, we’re going to reconfigure our product line, or we’re going to change some processes, there are going to be people who like the old way, who are comfortable with the old way, and it’s not just that they are afraid to change.
Really the old way was better for them, they had worked out the little kinks in it. I think acknowledging all of those things for people—I rarely see it in change communication. I think we are too quick to say, “Hey the future’s going to be great: Jetsons and flying cars, and I can’t wait to get there.” Well let’s acknowledge that maybe flying cars have some downsides. It’s not all roses and strawberries and unicorns.
KF: The beautiful things in life.
MB: That’s the one thing: Where can you be honest, where can you be forthright in acknowledging the dark side of change. I think that if you could do it, it will give you incredible credibility, and it will build incredible trust with your team. They will say There’s a leader who understands that hey this isn’t all great for me. Might be great for him, but not for me, and he gets it. He acknowledged it, so I’m willing to go forward with this journey with him.
KF: That’s great advice.
MB: Well.. good!
KF: Thank you for coming and sharing that and all of the other answers that you’ve provided today.
MB: Thank you Kevin.
KF: Absolutely. And thank you to all of you for stopping by! For more tips and helpful advice about business and communication, check out the link in the description. There you will find videos, like the one you are watching, along with shareable whitepapers and more content. And don’t forget to hit subscribe.
See you in a month!