Most Internal Change Initiatives Fail
If you are a business owner, senior executive or even a product or project manager pay attention. Much of driving change, advancing strategy and winning in the market relies on changes within your firm to make it more competitive externally. This could be in the form of your staff leveraging new technology (like a CRM or social media), improving processes, working with new external partners and providers, or even in how your organization is structured and organized. Unfortunately, research has shown that the vast majority of major change initiatives fail. There are a number of reasons for this but most of what I’ve seen and read points to why it goes wrong not what you can do to increase your chances of it going right.
New Competition for Attention and Engagement
In 2014 the walls of our organizations have become much more porous, transparent and fluid. In the past organizations, in particular large ones, operated like self-contained islands, disconnected from the external world. Organizations were a bit like the US Military, totally self-reliant, giant, with their own unique ways of doing even common things. That has and is changing rapidly. What I believe is most challenging is that your ability to capture the attention and goodwill of your employees has become much more difficult. Back in the self-contained days your main competition was likely from other internal initiatives but now with technology you are facing a brutal headwind spanning media, advertising, commerce, news, social media and personal communications. Employees have a great deal of power and choice as to what they pay attention to and spend their time on. (Oh and its almost poetic that firms still block sites like Facebook yet they’ve constructed perfect privacy shelters, cubicles, for employees to just their personal smart phones in secrecy). This means your ability to get them to do or even pay attention to (fill in your major change initiative here) is very limited. As soon as you can embrace that control, even of people you pay a hefty salary to, is an illusion, the sooner you’ll start focusing on what works vs. applying force.
Old School = Losing
The problem is that few business leaders have caught on to the fact that the consumer marketplace has greatly increased employee expectations and standards for things like technology interfaces, visual aesthetics and tone of communications, speed and responsiveness, freedom and transparency, and how people are engaged and rewarded. Business change initiatives are still being run using very “old school” thinking and tactics that gives us the same kind of reaction as thinking about the days when we had to feed those little holes into our dot-matrix printers. When something looks and feel antiquated your employees immediately have lower perceived value for and interest in it. This reduces your likelihood of success right out of the gate. If you can’t align your people internally you likely won’t win externally.
Make It Sexy
Yet we can flip this on its head. Instead of having our initiatives be drown out by more creative, innovative, engaging, fun “competition” we can learn from it make ours better. How? In a word, make what we do SEXY. I’ve done some analysis along with pulling on my experience to come up what I believe are the four levers for how we can make things sexy: Values, Design, Stimulation and Activation.
- Values - how our fundamental beliefs about how people should be treated shape what we design
- Good - assume good intent, employees want to do the right thing, respect for all staff, treat people like adults
- Bad - guilty until proven innocent, lower bar to manage the rotten apples, people will screw when possible, no trust, treat people like children
- Design - how we configure, sequence, and bring to life what we are creating
- Good - thoughtful, easy. empathy for barriers and frustrations of employees, attractive, tailored, fun, social, simple, flexible
- Bad - clunky, ugly, IRS or DMV-like, tedious, confusing, difficult, irritating, wasteful
- Stimulation - how we develop buzz, pull, mystique and interest in what’s coming
- Good - trickle out limited information, build hype, involve influencers/popular/respected staff at all levels, creative marketing assets, make it scarce (give to just a select group to start), celebrate/reward/party, high touch service/support
- Bad - make it compulsory, send a memo, show zero excitement, set low expectations, provide no context, “launch” and let go
- Activation - how we light a fire of adoption/utilization and keep it burning
- Good - like an announcement of a new iPhone model, share progress transparently, recognize/reward adopters, community/relationship management, celebrate progress, allow for local adaptation, continuous improvement
- Bad - don’t measure success, ignore employee feedback, tie compliance to compensation, no governance, no post-launch funding, no dedicated staff
Take Sexy Beyond Your Walls
You can make your product and service offerings for clients sexy too. In fact, learning how to make things more sticky, compelling, engaging, refined, and sustaining (through internal efforts) will be a lethal competitive advantage externally, regardless of industry.
I gave a talk at the HR Technology Conference last fall on this subject, tailored on how HR can actually be sexy too, and as a result much more effective and valuable. Video of the presentation is embedded below and my slides are linked.