One of the main reasons that some companies manage to successfully implement change after change is that they use and build upon an inherited foundation in the company in both communication and leadership. This foundation consists of a lived vision, business goals that people understand, and a clear common culture—a story that people are proud of.
The trap of introducing new stuff when there isn’t a clear foundation can be avoided in varying degrees, depending on what your organizational foundation looks like. Even when the foundation is unclear or heterogeneous, there are opportunities for the communicator to avoid this trap by building their messages and their story on what is common. However, it will require more of the communicator to formulate and pedagogically build up messages and stories that have an impact throughout the organization. It also requires a real commitment from all operational managers to speak with one voice, which may require greater effort in the onboarding before the change journey starts.
We think that using their inherited foundation is the main reason why companies like IKEA, H&M, Tetra Pak and others have managed to grow year after year. It’s not just about their innovation power; it´s also about how they handle difficult and challenging times. Trust and common believes are strong vehicles for change and togetherness in both good and bad times.
The ability to constantly evolve and tackle change, we find, is often the result of a strong common culture, with a clear and consistent sense of what’s considered ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ behaviour throughout the organisation.
In companies or public organisations with an unclear foundation, it’s much more difficult to inspire the general commitment that is needed to effect business change.
We’ve seen what happens when everyone in the management team shares the perception of the company’s culture and business goals, when personal prestige is set aside, and everyone seems to be on the same wavelength.
Unfortunately, this sort of deep engagement with a company is not always a given. Many companies aren’t even well-known to their own employees—a lack of shared direction and shared values is quite common and also one of the reasons why these organisations generally don’t manage to unlock their staff’s full potential.
They may still be successful. If the customer demand continues to grow, they can capitalise on what they already do. The lack of deep engagement may not be a huge problem right ‘now’, but it will be when their luck turns and major changes to the business are required.
Without a deep-rooted connection to a common direction in the organisation or a common culture, changes are more often managed from the top down, with specific requirements and control systems. Unfortunately, many of these initiatives become ‘mandatory’ and ‘imperative’ for staff. In these conditions, the changes need to be tightly controlled, with constant supervision and adjustments, in order for them to be feasible at all.
Change initiatives tend to work very differently in a company with a homogeneous and clear value base, where simply selling the goal of the change and linking it to the business vision is often enough. If you’ve succeeded in creating this bridge, you’ll have established good conditions for success. A sense of security is important to encourage individuals to embark on an adventure. They need to be able to trust themselves and others, and they feel motivated by making an important contribution to some long-term plan.
Companies with a more diverse culture and an unclear direction can, of course, also be successful in implementing change. But since these companies lack the well-established foundations that create greater security, more responsibility rests on the drivers of each individual change initiative to show how it is linked to what’s been done before, what the company stands for, and where it is headed with the change.
A strong homogeneous and vibrant foundation creates a higher capacity for change. This is why IKEA has managed better than many others to constantly change and adapt its business and organisation to keep in step with the times.
Know what your company stands for!
To create the best conditions for change, our advice is to clearly define your company’s vision – its foundation – and actively use it in change communication, and in overall leadership of your teams and of individuals. This will make implementing changes much, much easier. A strong shared view of what is right and wrong in everyday life creates security – use this to your advantage in your change work.
Tips for the change communicator
- Use the fundamentals in your change story to explain how the new initiative is related to who you are (your foundation) and where you’re going.
- You don’t have to come up with a whole new story. Your vision, your mission, and your values are fantastic elements to build upon. Consider if you can establish and convey security, credibility and loyalty in a better way?
- Do you find that these foundations are missing and that you live in a more heterogeneous world, full of different views and different directions depending on who you talk to? Then, as a communicator, you have a greater responsibility to create a credible story, based on what you want to achieve. This is a challenge for the change communicator: whose story should you tell?