When a new era dawns in any organisation the habit is usually to turn towards motivational techniques to effect the necessary change. This is however exactly what prevents most organisations from changing effectively.
While traditional motivational activities work very well for creating shared intentions – usually based on hope, fear, or peer pressure – real change only happens through sustained and disciplined action.
The missing link between intent and action for change is the skill to change one’s own behaviour.We often expect people to adapt to change – especially when we’re excited about a new opportunity – without ever teaching them how to change.
This expectation is as unfair as asking an artist to do the job of a trained accountant. They might be very willing to, but unless they receive the same training, they will be largely unable to, or at least be unable to perform at the same level.
Translate the reason for change
The first step in developing the skill to change is to ensure that everyone affected understands exactly what should change and why.
While this might seem obvious, change management campaigns are often reduced to clever catch phrases developed by marketing departments.
Very few organisations invest in translating change messages into a context that is relevant to and understood by various groups and individuals.
Never assume that everyone understands why change is necessary. It is easy to mistake shared intent for true understanding. This is often a symptom of too much focus on motivating change, without the necessary backup by a clearly understood reason for change.
The logical reason for change will be the basis of discipline that’s left after the initial motivation – driven by emotion – has subsided.
It is also imperative to be very specific on which behaviours are expected to change.
People find it easier to change if they are told exactly what is expected of them in terms of both undesired and replacement behaviour, rather than leaving it up to individual interpretation.
Understand the complexity of resistance to change
Even the most compelling reasons for change, and the clearest communication is however not a guarantee for changed behaviour.
Humans are neurologically, psychologically, and sociologically programmed to resist change as a survival mechanism. We are hardwired to think that we can only ensure our future survival if we can control what the future will look like.
Organisations have to teach those that will be affected by change how to accept the unfamiliar and remain focused on the core purpose of the organisation. Resistance to change is dependent on so many complexities that the “mind over matter” approach of most change management programmes is unrealistic. Organisations that empathise with its people and train them on how to reduce the habitual resistance will see much better results.
Don’t count on linear results
Traditional change management programmes rely on motivation led by a change champion, and an entire group moving from one point to another through massive effort.
The problem with this linear approach is that it is not suited to the agile world in which we live. Very often, we find that change has changed by the time we get to where we thought it was going to be.
This strengthens my argument against relying too heavily on change driven by motivation, and led by a single source.
Change driven by several individuals or smaller groups – who have been trained in how to change their own behaviour to effect change – might not deliver results that align with each other simultaneously. It does however allow for these individuals and groups to take responsibility and be accountable for continuous movement towards a shared goal.
While linear results might look better in a report, more organic results have a compound effect across an organisation. Before you expect something different of people, first make sure that they understand exactly what is expected of them, and take responsibility as an organisation for equipping them to do differently. It might seem unnecessarily frustrating and lengthy in the beginning, but it will be an investment that continues to provide returns.
The popularity of wearable technology has had an impact on far more than just fashion and digital design trends. The ever-growing trend that will soon cause a flurry of frantic activity in marketing offices around the world is the impending change in information consumption.
Both studies based on formal research and those based on pure observation have proven that information consumption trends have changed significantly in a short period of time.
These days the most popular written pieces tend to be those divided by sub-headings, as it helps readers who have learned the skill of consuming short bytes of information at lightning speeds, to stick to longer form content. Even the decision on whether or not to read the full written piece is sometimes based on the value of information received from reading only the subheadings.
Long form content will always have a place, as people have an innate need to gather information. It is the format and length of lure that leads to informational long form pieces that has and will continue changing.
Major shakeups in the recent past for content creators (writers, marketers, PR professionals, journalists, videographers etc) include:
Wearable technology, whether it is a smart watch or smart set of eyewear, has brought about a new disruption. With tiny screens, room for only a single message, adapted scrolling functionality, wearable technology demands extreme brevity like no tool before it.
For content creators, who spend countless hours producing perfectly poised materials, the looming change in information consumption is a scary business. What many clients don’t realise is that it takes the same amount of time, if not longer, to create a piece of content that is suitable for the brevity demanded by developing mobile technologies, than a longer piece suitable for print or computer.
Content creators need to become skilled in formats suitable for the extreme brevity that is demanded by wearable tech, and will also have to educate their clients on the need for messages in a variety of formats.
THE ROBOTS ARE COMING!
Depending on your personality type, your appetite for risk and popular opinion of the people that surround you, your reaction to this statement will either be one of excitement or one of absolute terror.
The future is often described as an insurmountable obstacle racing towards us at a frightening speed.
We are however not as unprepared as we might think, even when we take into account trend predictions made by futurists. Developments over the past decade have already provided us with guidelines and structures to prepare for the future.
All we need now is a shift in mind set.
Disruption as base for vision
When we set the direction for the future we need to have a basic understanding of the innovations that are predicted to disrupt the industries we operate in and rely on.
With social media enabling the instantaneous sharing of ideas and discoveries, keeping our finger on the pulse of innovation is easier and cheaper than ever. In most instances it is not even necessary to understand the intricate details of all the innovations; a broad awareness will help guide leadership decisions toward setting a direction that is less likely to be surprised by disruption.
An honest look at what our world may be like in the future will enable us to focus on what is necessary to keep fulfilling the purpose of our effort.
We need to have a clear purpose for our efforts combined with a firm understanding of innovations that will have an impact on those efforts.
The purpose of an organisation can no longer be merely self-serving. Society demands that all organisations set a direction for responsible effort in the triple context of profit, people, and planet.
Sustainability as a habit
Sustainability is a term often used interchangeably between the continued existence of an organisation and the environmental impact of a product.
It should however be used as combination of the two and adopt the King IV Report on Good Governance description of “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”.
This description refers not only to the responsible use of existing limited natural resources, but also to the investment needed into alternative materials and methods that will reduce the negative environmental impact from decisions made by previous generations.
We need to consider how each decision we make now - as individuals, communities or organisations - will change the quality of life of our children and their children's children.
We must also understand that future generations will not live in the world that we know now. A change from automation by machines programmed by humans to robots that function on their own through artificial intelligence, is merely one of the changes that is no longer a prediction, but already a reality.
Communication as a hard skill
It is therefore necessary to ensure that we do not merely build our awareness of potential disruption, but that we also share it with others and prepare them for it.
Change management programmes and the communication plans that go with them has become a specialised function, but it seems to have little impact where disruption is concerned.
The problem with change management is that it is a linear process, while disruption is known for change that has changed by the time you deal with it.
Effective communication that attempts to prepare teams for disruption is barred by human nature that triggers an automatic resistive response once we're faced with something new and unfamiliar.
We need to distinguish between communicating change and communicating crisis by training our teams to form a habit of seeing disruption as an opportunity, not a threat.
To achieve this we need to stop delegating communication to marketing teams as a support function. We need to retrain our workforces to develop communication capabilities as a core skill, as that is predicted to become our saving grace for when the robots do come.