Storytelling as a cornerstone of change management

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Change communication and two-way symmetrical communication possess invaluable attributes that can enrich the change management ‘product’. They include issues & change management, listening, market research and messaging – all of which use the cornerstone component of storytelling.

Sign Language American alphabet

Communication alone, however, no matter what the indisputable logic of the change (e.g. the business won’t survive and nor will your jobs if we don’t get on the bus together) and the effectiveness of getting people to recognise that logic, is not enough to make people change.

This post is an excerpt from A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, a free resource that explores, and provides practical strategic and tactical advice on, how communication contributes to effective change management.

Communication is imperative, yes, but it’s not the be-all and end-all and its application, like all elements of change management, requires humility, collaboration and, as Rachael Bibby has insightfully pointed out, compassion from its exponents, including executive leadership.

The ark – and the arcs – that is storytelling

At the heart of effective communication is articulating a compelling story – storytelling – a topic discussed at length in The Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management. And it’s not as easy as it might sound.

It’s the compelling characteristic which is the kicker.

The narrative ‘arc’ provides a vision and/or big picture scene setting context. This is especially relevant to transformational change, but so does it provide a context for any form of communication. From this narrative arc other messaging materialises, messaging more specific to the actual changes occurring.

The narrative arc has, embedded within it, the rationales for change. There are a number of factors relevant to the arc…

It will include a (hopefully) compelling vision for the future. But this goes to one of the core premises of effective communication (and culture for that matter):

  • Whose vision is it?
  • Was it co-created with employees or was it conceptualised by executive leadership and/or a consultancy firm?
  • “The power of a vision comes truly into play only when employees themselves have had some part in its creation” (Goman, 1999).

Employees need to be given the big picture and then have it drilled down to the what’s in it for me (WIIFM) dimension. Maybe the WIIFM is as simple as your job is at risk if we don’t change.

There needs to be honesty and transparency in communicating the rationale for change and, hence, in the narrative arc and vision.

Organisations need to share characteristics of their operating environment that are making change/transformation necessary and what needs to occur to future-proof the organisation.

Research consistently tells us that employees are phlegmatic in their response when it comes to these sorts of reality checks. They may not find it palatable, but they would rather be told the truth than given candy-coated, obfuscatory tales told in frigid auto-piloted corporate weasel words.

Operating environment factors driving the need for change could include:

  • a challenging economic operating environment
  • the unpredictability of, or emerging, competition
  • customer needs
  • leaps in technology that will facilitate efficiencies occurring and organisational competitiveness or productivity improving
  • an organisation needing to play catch up in productivity (Greece, as well as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland are examples of where change management needs to operate on a nation-wide basis!)
  • financials, risks, potential positive and negative outcomes of undertaking or not undertaking change (Goman, 1999).

Storytelling for trust

A key factor – and outcome that is sought – through organisational storytelling is trust.

This goes directly to the heart of culture (in itself heavily influenced by how much an organisational genuinely listens to its employees and acts upon what it has heard), because no amount of incisive, memorable storytelling will resonate – for the right reasons, at least – if trust is not granted from executive leadership and line management to employees.

Similarly, trust will not exist within employees unless the CEO, as the Edelman Trust Barometer indicates:

  • communicates clearly and transparently
  • tells the truth, no matter how complex or unpopular
  • engages with employees regularly to discuss the state of the business
  • is front and centre during challenging times.

Each of these four factors is crucial to change management. If it occurs, change has a fighting chance of becoming embedded. If it is not occurring, either from the CEO or executive leadership, then…

This post is an excerpt from A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, a free resource that explores, and provides practical strategic and tactical advice on, how communication contributes to effective change management.

(Goman, Karen: 1999. Twelve Questions to Ask Before Communicating Change. In IABC Handbook of Organizational Behaviour. 122-135. New York: Marcel Dekker.)

By |October 7th, 2015|Communication tactics, Internal communication|0 Comments

A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management – free professional resource

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I invite you to download the free resource, A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management, from this blog, then share news of the resource via the social media icons on this page and endorse me for change communications on my LinkedIn profile.  The guide can be downloaded once you have subscribed to this blog.

A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management

A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management is a free resource packed with user-friendly and functional insights and advice on how communication contributes to effective change management. The guide features intel from seven experienced communication and change professionals, and will benefit all levels of practitioner.

It is of use to change, change communication and internal communication professionals, while senior leaders who have change/transformation in their job remit will also find it of use.

Communication reigns in change management

Research consistently informs us the quality, nature and consistency of communication plays a leading role – if not the leading role – in change becoming embedded within organisations. This underlines the importance of exploring what constitutes effective communication in the context of change management, enabling us to better understand the role it plays and harness its power.

It manifests itself in many different ways. Like change management, the process, and the change ‘product’ it delivers, communication is, and must be, a malleable and adaptive entity.

If you find the resource of worth, I’d appreciate you endorsing me on my LinkedIn profile for change communications (just scroll down my profile page until you see change communications under Skills and click on the + icon next to it).

Leadership, culture and communication

Communication is embedded in – and/or influences – all the different phases of change. It carries particular resonance for organisational leadership – in any of its executive sponsorship, line management and informal influencer manifestations – as it is here where the greatest possibilities for change communication impact occur.

Leadership, communication and culture are the triumvirate bedrock for change – be it good or bad, effective or ineffective. They are enablers or they are blockers. Each are addressed in this guide.

Share news of the guide through the LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook icons on the guide’s landing page – or even through face-to-face and email conversations!

A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management synthesises thinking from a range of sources – practical experience from change and change communication professionals, academic discussions and management consulting resources. It is not a set of academic papers; it is intended to be of practical use – yet I am sure its content will pique the interest of academics.

Sources of intelligence for change communication guide

“For the C-suite, transformational change is indistinguishable from business strategy,” writes Jonathan Champ in this guide, a point which, I think, underlines just how significant the field of change management is to contemporary business. It pulses through the veins of every part of the organisational body – brain, organs, limbs, torso and…soul.

You’ll find many of the pieces, especially those written by myself, look at change primarily through the lens of Prosci’s ADKAR change management model.

There are other models of change – such as the influential and much cited one of Kotter’s, the Four Rooms methodology and Lewin’s Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze model – that contributors such as Angela Scaffidi, Rachael Bibby, Jonathan Champ and Scott Guthrie discuss and put in a communication context. Though they take different paths to achieve the same end-goal, each model enriches the thinking behind change and adds rigour to the process.

More important than the model of change applied is that such is the prodigiousness and prevalence of change in contemporary business, as cogently argued by Scott Guthrie in this guide, that organisations have no choice but to make change management a built-in and embedded capability, rather than one which is procured on an ad hoc bolt-on basis. Acceptance of this view, especially when applied in a transformational sense, means there will be more demands on, and for, change communicators.

A Communicator’s Guide to Successful Change Management is an attempt to focus greater attention on the subtleties of change management communication, providing value to the increasing number of professionals involved in the field. It is also intended to foment further discussion and enrich the professional knowledge and capability of all those involved in change management communication.

I hope you enjoy the guide and find its content enriching.

If you find the resource of worth, I’d appreciate you endorsing me on my LinkedIn profile for change communications (just scroll down my profile page until you see change communications under Skills and click on the + icon next to it).

By |September 10th, 2015|Internal communication, Strategic communication|0 Comments

Five reasons why public relations is not dead

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The idea that public relations is dead is fundamentally absurd, but it makes for a catchy headline. And some circling vultures might find the scent of death compelling enough to swoop down for a closer look. There’s a slew of reasons one can slalom through to explode the PR is dead myth but, at its very heart, the ideal form of two-way symmetrical communication  ensures the assertion is a fallacy.

PR is not dead_2A discussion booted off at PR Redefined gathered the insights of some pretty cluey comms professionals – as well as those of my own – on the topic and a discussion at the PRIA LinkedIn group also contained some interesting dialogue generated by the issue. Following are the notions I put forward.

Two-way symmetrical communication at the heart of public relations

PR cannot be dead if you subscribe to the theory of two-way symmetrical communication.

The chief and defining point of difference for the ideal form of two-way symmetrical is that, based on feedback from target audiences, an organisation will modify its initially proposed business activity so it is more in line with the needs and wants of its target audiences. So it is not, literally speaking, purely a communication activity, but its application does impact profoundly on the quality of organisation-stakeholder relationships.

The other two key elements of the ideal form of two-way symmetrical are market research (being used as a means to listen and learn, not just to help persuade) and two-way communication (listening, again, to stakeholders to gain an enhanced understanding of their views).

Two-way symmetrical frequently occurs, even if it sometimes takes a crisis to motivate the organisation to adopt this approach!

If a practitioner is sceptical of the efficacy or practical application of two-way symmetrical, it provides an admirable aspirational objective to incorporate the approach into business as usual comms (along with achieving ever present business/ commercial/ organisational outcomes, of course…).

Risk management and rigour from PR

Whether you subscribe to, and apply, two-way symmetrical or not, it is a fundamental responsibility of PR to assist organisations understand the views of stakeholders. This generates information which will inevitably enrich organisational decision making, as well as the outcomes of this decision making.

Even if this stakeholder scoping leads to no change to the proposed decision/business activity, it will have provided valuable rigour, risk management and quality to the decision.

Building relationships that last the distance

Inherent to stakeholder scoping, or sometimes additional to it, PR applies its traits of empathy, negotiation and alliance building, making the effort to understand, and then actually comprehend, the needs, wants, motivations and perceptions of stakeholders.

PR can never be dead because these traits – necessary for an organisation to operate at optimum levels – are more fundamental to PR than any other business discipline. Including marketing.

Marketing exists to make money for an organisation. PR can exist to help achieve this but, more importantly, its focus is on creating an environment where relationships prosper, helping organisations in a holistic sense more than other business disciplines. If this does not occur, organisations will be mired in firefighting mode and expend energy more on damage limitation than reputation enhancement.

The moral compass at the heart of storytelling and positioning

PR is the storytelling function of an organisation. In an age of content marketing, brand journalism and a decline in the amount and quality of the media, this role is more relevant and powerful than ever.

With the decline of the fourth estate, however, comes great responsibility. Without aspiring to achieve he actuality and sub-text of two way symmetrical, the organisation will lack a moral compass to assist in the navigation of its communication, culture and positioning.

The moral compass (perhaps it’s just a common sense compass?) necessitates corporate brand journalism not being characterised by spin or tedious, self-serving platitudes. As PR is a boundary-spanning (between organisations and their stakeholders) enabler, it has the capability to use characteristics previously outlined (e.g. empathy, understanding stakeholder needs and wants) to produce creative and authentic content which engages, and doesn’t repel, stakeholders.

Internal relationships in a world of change

Souls more attuned to the zeitgeist of our times than myself have commented that change management within government and commercial sectors is occurring more frequently than ever. This means internal public relations – change comms – is increasingly in demand.

And while often there is not much the PR pro can do about what constitutes the ‘change product’ – so much for two-way symmetrical communication here! – relationship building and issues management help organisations limit reputational damage and maybe, just maybe, contribute to creating an environment where the change is welcomed and adopted, not just tolerated or abjured.

What reasons can you give for PR not being dead? Or do you have reasons to support the opposite argument? Can you provide examples to provide context for any of the above five points?

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