“Write your change”©

Methodology for successfully shifting mindsets and aligning them with business ambitions

Change is everywhere, all the time. We increasingly hear that change is the new paradigm of the 21st century. Despite this awareness of the ever-changing environment, people are naturally resistant to change. As a consequence, many efforts at change have not delivered the desired outcome or have even failed miserably, especially when it comes to changing an organizational culture.

Prosci© research studies show that the number one contributor to successful change in culture is the effective sponsorship of senior management and their serving as role models and ambassadors for the change (being active and visible). The two most effective role models for change are the most senior person involved in the change and the direct line manager. 

Beyond the individual sponsorship of top executives, the ability of the leadership team to act as a cohesive unit in providing this sponsorship will also act as a change accelerator. Misalignment in the leadership team about the why, what and how of change is a recipe for failure. The leadership team needs to reach consensus on the goal of the change project, as well as on the reason for it and how to get there. I used to say that when initiating a large culture change project, it is essential to devote ample time to developing and aligning the leadership team at the beginning in order to save an enormous amount of time and energy later in the project.

Prosci© research studies demonstrate that when implementing a new strategy or simply reaching business goals requires a change in the way people work, the speed of adoption (how quickly people get on board), the ultimate utilization (how many people are on board), and the proficiency (how much improvement occurs when people are on board) are the three ‘human’ factors that impact the amount of expected improvement from the change project. Obviously, the level of trust people have in the leadership team of the organization has a direct effect on these 3 factors. When people trust the leadership team to have the right vision and make the right choices, they will be more inclined to follow the new direction (resistance will be lower).

Since creating alignment in the leadership team on the why, what and how of change is key to the success of the change project, our experience at Nexum showed that having the leadership team write and tell an inspiring story of change, with one voice, is an effective way to create this alignment and the necessary awareness of the change at all levels of the organization. For this reason we have created the “Write your change©” methodology. The objective of this approach is threefold: facilitate the transition at an individual level (“Organizational change requires individual change and organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change”), align the leading team around a shared story that they will communicate in a unified way within the organization, and have a vehicle for cascading the messages and creating awareness across the organization. The idea is to have each individual executive cascade the change in their team by building their own story for change, connected to the overarching one. All this requires is that they adopt the corporate story developed by the leadership team and adapt it by writing their own chapter. Herrero emphasizes the use of storytelling and story-recording, because he found that stories of failures and successes travel much faster than Key Performance Indicators.

Why is writing a story a good way to both help individuals who contribute to that story to buy into the change and create alignment within the leadership team? First of all, writing provides a unique form of feedback and reinforcement because the information from the writing process is immediately available as a product. Then, writing stimulates learning because writers spontaneously generate knowledge when they write. Writers also externalize ideas in the form of text and reread them to generate new inferences. Making a story out of a complicated experience can make the experience more enjoyable. Finally, as a leadership team, the process of collective story-writing is also a useful way to align the management team and create a shared vision towards the future. The writing process in effect creates space for the discussion and constructive confrontations that are needed to achieve true alignment, and therefore commitment.

 

A compelling story for change is built around eight building blocks.

The first building block is the business context, because there should always be a compelling business reason for change. Changing the organizational culture can’t be an end itself. It’s important to write down the situation that prevails in the organization at the time of the change (both internal and external challenges) and, if possible, the way in which we expect the environment to evolve.

The second building block is made up of the successes of the past. This is based on the “Appreciative Inquiry” philosophy that says that all human systems already have strengths. By including this part in our story we avoid people viewing the past as “all bad”. People need to realize that if the company is where it is, it owes this to the current culture. So they need to build on the strengths of the existing culture.

Then, as a third building block, the story should include the desired situation (vision). This is the ideal state of the culture we really wish for. In so doing, we increase the chances of generating breakthrough changes, because people aren’t simply trying to fix the problems of the present situation, but are driven by genuine ambitions for the future.

To create a sense of urgency (survival anxiety) for the change process, we need to highlight in the fourth building block what is working less than optimally and make it clear why the status quo is not an option. In this step we also need to identify the potential barriers to reaching the desired situation that was highlighted in the previous block (desired situation).

This should be followed, as a fifth and sixth building blocks, by the “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)” question, presented in 2 ways: the cost of the current situation for all people involved in the change, and the benefits of the change for the same audience.

Once all this is clear, the story should give some initial elements about what the leadership team envisages as the change project. The main change axes should be identified and a first version of the change strategy and roadmap should be communicated (at least some key milestones).

The last section of the story should cover expectations for the future and the next steps. These are expressed in two directions. First, the leadership team should reassure the people impacted by the change about the support they will provide them with, in order to reduce the “learning anxiety” that the expected change can generate. Secondly, leadership should also start involving people by expressing what they expect them to do during the period of change.

 

When the leadership team has debated all these building blocks in depth, chances are high that the story for change will be solid. However, only 50% of the work is done at this stage – the way the story will be conveyed represents the other 50%. That involves the nature of story-telling, but that’s another story.

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