Beyond the theory of change management, the ability to communicate and influence people is probably the most important tool that a change manager has at their disposal. After all, if the changes aren’t embraced by the people who will use new structures, processes, systems, and ways of working – there will be no change. Winning hearts and minds is probably the most difficult part about delivering a successful change programme.
So, what does it take to effectively do this?
The art of stakeholder management
A good change manager must be more than a ‘cheerleader’ for change. Not all change is, or feels, positive and even when there is a powerful case for change and little risk of failure on paper, the organisational politics can be complex. There are always winners and losers. Change isn’t positive for everybody and, if not careful, the change manager can become side-lined as a naïve enthusiast or an apologist for unwelcome news. Both situations undermine trust and trust is everything when you’re asking people to take a leap of faith on a new way of working.
The art of stakeholder management is, therefore, a deeper discipline than most give it credit. Tailoring your message to the stakeholder group is a start but it must go further. It’s important to understand when we communicate and why. Ensure that third parties, unions, and suppliers are included. When you think how much work is completed by third parties for the UK’s largest PLCs – over 50% for some of them – we’re well advised to take this more seriously.
Lastly, but not least, good stakeholder management is about creating the space for others to lead in the right way around the proposed changes.
What do we mean by space?
Firstly, many senior stakeholders will not automatically create space for things like impact assessments and change readiness exercises. In addition, leaders need to give themselves time to lead in the right way and think through their decisions. In a BAU situation, good senior leaders make decisions quickly. They can do this because they are familiar with the landscape, the challenges, and the consequences. Change is by definition uncharted and often ambiguous territory and leaders need to think carefully before they act, or they could undermine all endeavours on the change project.
Dealing with politics
Before creating your communications plans in any detail, spend time with each stakeholder group listening. Observe the politics swirling around them; find out what they already know about the change. Get to know them, find out what their real concerns are and how they perceive the material benefits of the change. The more you listen, the more you understand and the more you’ll be able to have influence later in the project.
Realise you alone are not enough
Change communications shouldn’t be the sole prerogative of the change manager and change communications specialist but should instead be extended to all participants and activities within the programme and also in the business that will own the change in the longer term.
You’ll need the amplification of colleagues both junior and senior, whether in the form of change champions or other colleagues in the organisation, involved in driving the change forward. An important reason for this is that whilst you will undoubtably be thinking about the reactions of all people impacted by change the best way to obtain real knowledge of what is happening on the ground is by having a diverse group of people who can observe and replay those observations to you.
Embracing diversity will make change successful and we mean diversity in every sense – all the varied attributes of people that make up who we are in the workplace. It aids our understanding of different change requirements with regards to risk. It also brings new ideas and perspectives in ways we may not consider in isolation, thus increasing our chances to successfully embed change.
Following these steps will provide a solid foundation and path towards a successful implementation of any change programme. But there is so much more you can do.
The team at Marlowe have years of business change expertise and are specialists in supporting organisations who are undergoing transformational, technological, and cultural change. Please contact us to see how we can support you with your change requirements.