Creating a Compelling Case for Change

Imagine this:  Your team has designed an organizational change that will have significant operational impact.  It’s a complex process and you’ve worked for months to get all the moving parts aligned.  The deadline for rollout is fast approaching, you’ve run out of time, and you’ve pinned down the last details just under the wire.  You all leave the final meeting exhausted but proud of your accomplishment. 

The next day, John stops you in the hallway and asks what’s going on. You open your mouth to reply and then realize you don’t know what to tell him. You fumble through an explanation but your story sounds incoherent and flat.  Later, Susan stops into your office and asks heatedly, “How’s this going to affect the line workers?  Does the union know about this?  How will my job be affected?”  Uh, oh, the rumors are spreading.

As the day progresses, emails from your team pile up.  They are running into the same problem.  And before the day is over, you suspect your wonderful plan has been seriously compromised.

What happened?  Something I’ve seen over and over (and even been part of, sadly). In our haste to wrap up the “what,” we’ve neglected to address an important question: “How are we going to communicate this change in a way that will create the greatest likelihood of success?  What will enhance the likelihood of buy in and alignment by the people responsible for implementing this change?”

How we communicate a change is as important as knowing what the change is.  Yet this step is often completely overlooked.   Any change effort will have a far better chance of succeeding if the same attention and thoughtfulness is paid to communicating the change as  to designing the change itself. 

This includes consideration of such things as:

  • Sequencing: Who do we tell, how do we tell them and and in what order?
  • Input: What part(s) of the change are we looking for input on? From whom? What is non-negotiable? What's the most effective way to get input?
  • Message: What’s the story? Do all the change initiators have a consistent yet personalized story?
  • Modeling: How do the change initiators convey heartfelt investment?

There’s a useful formula for creating a Change Story that I picked up from my colleague Dave Flanigan, who adapted it from various sources. It asks five simple, but not easy, questions. They can be answered in any order that makes sense.  They become refined over time and revised depending on who the audience is.  Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Story Elements:

Where are we going?

How will we get there?

Why do we need to transform?

Why now?

What’s in it for us?

Updated from “Creating a Compelling Change Story” first published in Navigating the Territory Reidy Associates Newsletter, November 2009