Change Management

One Big Boat

Marketing transformation isn’t like a lot of other business process changes in that it is so intensely reliant on humans – namely, the employees changing the way they market – for success. But that reliance on humans means the transformation team has to take extra care to ensure that everyone involved has to understand the overall picture and where every single element of the change fits into the bigger picture.

sailing ship in one boatI think of it as basically showing that ‘we’re all in one big boat together, pushing through a storm to reach safe harbor, each one of us with a role to play if are to reach the shore.” And, you have to say it over and over and over, to employees, stakeholders, everyone.

Why? As we’ve discussed before, you have to really clearly articulate a convincing need for the organization – and all the employees – to change, provide a vision of what the organization will look like after the change, and incentivize employees to participate in the process. We’ve even talked about the need to have a single, comprehensive plan. However, none of that will do you any good, unless you make sure that everyone actually hears and understands the motivations, the goals, and how the dots are connected well enough to carry out their role in getting the ship to shore.

So, over-communicate, through multiple, redundant channels. You need to be crystal clear with every person on the extended marketing transformation team has to be aware of how what he/she is doing ties in to the grand scheme of things – and call it out again and again. It’s not enough to know that your process or technology aligns, you have to tell everyone involved in any aspect – whether developer, stakeholder, end user, approver, whoever – exactly how (e.g., their role on the boat), where you’re all going (e.g., safe harbor on some nice solid shore far away) and why it’s so important (e.g, storm coming).

That may make you nod your head in agreement but you’re not the only one who will be asked questions about the project. Consistent, connected messaging is often either undervalued or underachieved by many extended team members with no background in marketing. The result is unanswered questions, mixed messages, or – worse – not connecting the dots at all and leaving the impression with employees that there are several, unrelated projects going on. I’ve seen this happen and it’s unfortunate but true that sometimes employees feel they only have enough time and energy to support what they think is one of the two projects. Obviously, this lack of participation will slow down or even stop your marketing transformation’s stunning success.

The reason for this failure is too often, you, the marketing transformation leader. One of the worst offenses you can commit in building out your change management communication plan, is not addressing stakeholder communications. I don’t mean communication TO stakeholders. I mean ensuring your stakeholders are prepped to talk to others about how what they do aligns with the overall plan and how the overall plan to the organization’s existing culture, which is a critical component of getting employee buy in.

Too often, team leaders assume that, after one or two conversations, the various stakeholders and team members understand the reasons for the change and know the change process as well as their leader does. If people picked things up that quickly, there would be no need for the constant bombardment that is called the advertising industry. So, I say again, you must over-communicate, through multiple, redundant channels to get your point across – and not just to employees but to all parties involved.

Better yet, make the stakeholders your advocates by taking the extra time to promote what they’re doing as well. Ask them for messaging points they want conveyed, invite them to participate in presentations you hold, solicit ideas for cultural alignment points, etc. Do whatever it takes to get them to see you are all on one big boat and to help you connect the dots for employees. If you can help people understand the objects and alignment points, they can help you deliver consistent messaging and, even provide value-add you might never have expected.

Another big messaging mistake team leaders make is not considering that the same communications plan will work for all employees. Having rolled out several global projects recently, I am freshly reminded that not all types of groups or all regions respond to employee communication the same way. Some departments think their current workload is more important than attending calls or completing training for a new project. Other teams need to hear that this latest “brilliant” corporate idea is something their local leader supports before they participate fully.

I find it’s easier to start at the top, for every department and for every geographic region. While I’m sure you will have put as much care into crafting your message for employees as you do those for buyers, it’s still worth it to share the message and the logic behind it with senior leaders in your various departments and geographies and see if it resonates as is or if you create sub-messaging for that team. You might also want to consider, depending on the demographics of your employee base, whether you need to have your content translated and presented in the local language.

Assuming that the message will be cascaded by senior leaders to junior leaders to middle management to ground level employees, leave a section where the presenter can add in bullets with examples of how the change relates to that particular geography or group. This is also a great opportunity to position you or another major spokesperson as an authority on the subject, from whom future communications might come. Spend the time to join these leadership calls and at least say hello and how happy you are to answer any questions and provide your direct contact information. Yes, that’s a lot of people emailing and calling but the effort you are putting in by taking that on speaks volumes about how invested you are and makes the overall process a little easier to bear for those caught up in the storm of changes.

If you have follow up calls you need to make to the group, I always try to have the invitation to the call come from the senior leader, not me, since that is who has the credibility with that group, a big issue in regions where hierarchy is still fairly tightly observed.

Sometimes on these calls, people won’t have any questions at the end. Marketing transformation is a lot to absorb so people’s brain’s may not yet have made all the connections so try to have some frequently asked questions (FAQs) you can proactively address at the end. This may get others to start thinking about their own concerns. However, in some situations, you are just not going to get questions and that’s how it is. People are sensitive about looking “dumb,” especially among peers.

That’s why I like using anonymous form for submitting questions. In another role, we used this a lot when I was coordinating with the employee relations teams during acquisitions. The human resources team and my public relations team wrote up fairly lengthy FAQs for ourselves, got them vetted by the powers that be, and used those to answer employee questions. This spread out the workload but ensured we stayed on message. In those rare cases when a question was too far off the FAQ for someone junior to answer from the messaging materials, etc., they called someone more senior.

Another way to deal with messages going in one ear and out the other is to convey a sense of urgency without causing panic. Layout timelines. List next steps. Explain how progress will be measured. Map out any incentives you have lined up. Then, as we talked about earlier, follow up with more practical, timely communication on a regular basis to that team, either by you, the team leader, or a surrogate who has been introduced by the team leader or you. Use calls, use emails, use webpages, use telephone messages (i.e., for reminders on trainings people have signed up for), use whatever you have available.

Remember, you are transforming marketing. Market your transformation – or watch it fail.

Comments welcome, especially if you have examples of how your organization handled change management messaging.

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