How to solve the challenge of change

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Photo of woman addressing workers in front of whiteboard in brick-lined office to illustrate change

Leaders have a change problem. How can they adapt their organisations to survive and thrive in challenging times when, according to McKinsey, around 70 per cent of initiatives fail, asks Tim Sarchet, COO and co-founder of Nomadic Learning

Leaders often make the right decisions about how their organisations need to change. But we can’t simply tell our organisations to be different.

There’s wide recognition that engaging your people in the change process is critical. But with a consistently high failure rate there is a disconnect between best intentions and the realities of implementation. We know what needs to be done, we just can’t figure out exactly how to do it.

Change from within

One company that might have figured it out is the global communications agency Ketchum. When the firm wanted to revolutionise its planning strategy in 2015, the CEO sought active input from all 2,000 client-facing staff. Over four weeks, via a social learning platform, employees developed an understanding of the new strategy in small teams of mixed seniority and markets.

The process was designed to maximise sharing of best practice globally, ensure employees understood and took ownership of the strategy and felt confident implementing it in local markets. Most importantly, Ketchum used the input gathered from the process to adapt and shape the strategy. Employees felt they were being listened to and their input was acted upon.

The result? 74 per cent of Ketchum’s staff felt well prepared to implement the strategy. Resistance was almost non-existent. Everyone understood the need for change and felt some ownership over the decisions being made.

There are three principles within Ketchum’s approach that can be applied to any change initiative:

Have an authentic consultation

We can’t keep paying lip-service to the process by testing new ideas with ‘safe’ individuals or selectively disregarding conflicting feedback. Genuine, open dialogue can enrich a strategy and improve the likelihood of employees understanding and committing to its implementation. Companies need to be brave enough to allow their people to shape change, particularly when it comes to implementation in local contexts. Bottom line: don’t be afraid of the input of your own people.

Use digital to scale at speed

Many organisations don’t have the luxury of multi-year change programmes, slowly cascading change down and across the organisation. That approach is too top-down anyway ­– there is little room for an authentic consultation by the time the message reaches the masses. We need to leverage best-in-class digital platforms to move faster than the world around us is changing and to truly democratise the change process.

Use content that guides and inspires

Too many organisations overlook this. Leaders can attempt an authentic consultation and use digital platforms to scale and democratise change, but without good content the conversation dies or descends into chaos. We need consumer-quality content (brilliant articles, great videos and cutting-edge interactive material) to help our people understand the change we need to go through and to inspire them to talk about it in meaningful ways.

There’s no simple solution to the change challenge, but by truly engaging people at scale with great content, companies will be better equipped to defy the management consultants’ odds.

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About author

Tim Sarchet

Tim Sarchet

Tim Sarchet is the COO and co-founder of Nomadic Learning, the builder of mobile, social learning programs for future leaders.

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