Change Management

Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze

Changes of any kind stick because they are entrenched in the minds of people involved. The changes in what to do are understood, accepted a necessary or valuable, and physically able to be carried out by the appropriate people.

Unfortunately, many marketing transformations spend a great deal of time, money, and energy on re-engineering process and integrating new tools but forget about changing people’s behavior.

Data shows that the average human has to be told something five to seven times before the message is lodged into the mind. That’s why you see the same ads on television again and again and again. That’s also why you need to build a plan for communicating change to your employees.

Ice cave change mangementHowever, there is a strong natural tendency in some people to resist or even fear change. That means they will – consciously or not – resist even listening to your messages, even if you do manage to get it in front of them many times. Some of them may listen and actively disagree with your ideas on how to solve the problem you’re tackling or that there is even a need to change.

The bottom line is that, you need to address any potential issues blocking the understanding, acceptance, and ability to carry out the transformation you’ve engineered – before your launch your new process and tools. The formal name for this effort is called “change management” and people most well-versed in this methodology are typically found in human resources (HR) or organization development (OD) departments.

The first time I encountered an OD professional was while working in the Judicial Council of California, the governing body for the state’s judicial branch. Actually, it wasn’t a fully-cooked state judicial branch just then. A law creating a single, statewide system (vs. each county having its own court system and, thus, inconsistent and inherently unfair application of justice) had been passed. When I arrived, everybody at the state level and in the counties was working their tushes off to make all the necessary changes in processes and tools.

The HR department had wisely decided to hire an OD professional to help manage the changes to employees and I was lucky enough to be assigned to help her with communications. This brilliant woman helped us look at everything through the lens of what I now know is the  Kurt Lewin ‘change management model’.

Not all teams think to include an OD person to help in their team structure but I promise that it’s easier with an OD person than without. The OD person (or some other poor sap who has to fill in if there is no OD professional) will walk you through the process of change management, which, in layman’s terms, is Unfreezing, Changing, Refreezing. This, of course, refers to the three-step process of helping people let go of the status quo, introducing the new way, and locking in that new behavior.

To illustrate this point, the image of mountain glacier that had been turned into an ice cave seemed perfect the first time I saw it. Glacier ice is thick and conveys really well how solid perceptions can be. It’s also not easy to mold a glacier and that’s sometimes how tough it is to change the way people do things. But, with the right sequence of events, carried out in a specific order and occurring for the necessary time, it can be done. That’s how you need to think about changing employee perceptions across your organization.

Some things to keep in mind at a high level as you plan for changing employee behavior are:

  • Begin planning for the change long before you roll it out. The beauty of planning ahead is that, in many cases, you can build change management into your transformation itself by addressing (through process or tools) some of the issues you are likely to face when you roll it out
  • Think in two time periods. Makes sure you understand what’s going on today so you can speak with authority on what will change and why. At the same time, keep an eye on what you want the future state of employee behavior to be. This is harder than it sounds because, sometimes, user testing or other feedback will suggest that there are “easier” ways to do something. That is probably true. However, that “easier” way may not lead to the way of thinking or resulting action later in the process that you envision in your future state.
  • Enroll credible stakeholders early in the process. As brilliant as you and your team undoubtedly are, you may not have the same credibility with all they types of employees who will be impacted by your marketing transformation. Make sure you know who is held in high regard by the various roles and geographies who will see changes as a result of your transformation. Educate and evangelize to them early on. Then make sure they are willing to active participants in your communications and training plans.

This is just a quick intro to the topic. We’ll talk more about it in future posts. In the meantime, take a look at professional organizations like Society for Human Resource Management and learn more about change management and how you can build it into your marketing transformation.

Comments welcome, especially those related to how your organization handled change management.

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