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Change Traps

Change Trap #9 – The Content Trap(s)

The essence of communication is transmission between senders and receivers. An interesting and enjoyable conversation can be had by leaning out an open window and talking to your neighbour. In a corporate context, this can be done over the phone, via email, Teams, over the table in a conference room, or maybe on the bus on the way to the airport. Different places and channels have their strengths and weaknesses, and work more or less effectively depending on the topic and the circumstances.Read more

Change Traps

Change Trap #5 – Introducing New Stuff Without A Solid Foundation

One of the main reasons that some companies manage to successfully implement one change after another is that they use and build upon an inherited foundation in the company in communication and leadership. This foundation consists of a lived vision, business goals that people understand, a clear common culture—a story that people are proud of.

This change trap can be avoided to 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 in order to have impact throughout the organization. It also requires a real commitment from all operational managers to speak with one voice, which may require greater effort to onboard them before the change journey starts.

Usages of the inherited foundation in the company, we would argue, is the main reason why companies like IKEA, H&M, Tetra Pak and others have managed to grow year in and year out. It’s not just about their innovation power, it´s also how they handle difficult and challenging times as well. Trust and common beliefs are strong vehicles for change and togetherness in both good and bad times.

We suggest that the ability to constantly evolve and tackle change is 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 common. Many companies aren’t even well-known to their own employees—a lack of shared direction and shared values is quite common.

While it is common, it is 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 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 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. These are the challenges for the change communicator; whose story should you tell?
Change Traps

Change Trap #4 – Square Pegs Stuffed Into Circles

One trap that’s pretty easy to fall into is when the change you want to make hasn’t been properly prepared. In other words, you haven’t done your homework.

In recent decades, many companies have been pushing forward, expanding at a rapid pace, and generally seeing the world as their oyster. Many companies have grown through new acquisitions, e.g. by acquiring their local competitors. In recent years, digitalisation of business and operations has accounted for much of the change initiatives that are being implemented.

In both cases, expansion through acquisitions and digitalisation, the existing corporate culture is the biggest challenge to get the push forward that one strives for.

To illustrate the trap of stuffing square pegs into circular holes, we’re going to look at a company that made its way into Europe from their beginnings as local Scandinavian manufacturers.

Through the acquisition of several other companies, they moved into Europe and became a European company. They went from having a few hundred employees to a few thousand over the course of a decade. Although the effect was not intended, after a few years – and a few CEO changes – they got stuck with a huge melting pot of cultural differences, suspicion and change fatigue.

There are many different explanations as to why this didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. For example, some blamed it on fierce competition and new consumer goods. Our conclusion was somewhat blunter.

Firstly, they didn’t make a cultural comparison, to judge how big the differences really were between the Swedish company and the companies they’d acquired. Target group analysis and general planning for how to manage a company’s most important resource – people – rarely gets the attention it requires. And they certainly didn’t work out in this case.

Secondly, the integration of people through involvement was non-existent. Attempts were made to stuff square pegs into circles without inviting employees to participate in the continuing changes.

These are two mistakes made by many enterprises that, with the support of financiers, bought too many companies too quickly. This didn’t work, mainly because of how upper management perceived and involved the employees and operational managers, in both the parent and the acquired companies.

The problem was that the Swedish managers, engineers and salesmen would come in and show people how things should work, with the goal of total integration of work and IT processes, organisational structures etc. But the problems for each newly acquired company grew exponentially. There were cultural clashes, clashes in views and general ways of working.

Unfortunately, if we relate the ‘square pegs in circles’ trap to today’s business world, we still see that new, working methods and technological solutions are being rolled out with the same ‘optimistic expectations’.


Practical tip for the change communicator

For this tip, we’ll focus on the ‘educational battle’ that you as a communicator might need to take on to deliver value to the business.

It’s a tough one. You might not have been involved in the decision making yourself. The expectation on you is to help make change happen. We believe that you as a communicator need to think twice (or more!) every time you find yourself enrolled in a new change initiative. You need to ask questions, and you need to be smart.

To be of high value to the business, you have to defend the truth; in particular, the truths about human psychology and behaviour. A change communicator should be the translator of the sender’s directives, and the spokesperson for the receivers – both at the same time.

This means you need to work with the facts about the receivers and match contemporary science. You need to work on your business case.

If the homework hasn’t been done, and you haven’t properly considered the actual differences between daily activities and what you want to change, you quickly get strong forces of resistance against it. Resistance that is not really about reluctance, but rather about a lack of conditions in the form of competence, motivation and clear expectations.

And out in the marketplace, the reasoning behind adapting to reality becomes even clearer: if the customer doesn’t see the benefit of your new product, they won’t buy it!

A useful tool is the change curve (by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross). If the human change pattern applies on an individual level, what happens to a whole organisation when people spend time in the valleys of denial and confusion? What is the cost in lower productivity? How can we minimise the depth and the duration of the drop in productivity? The answers lie in proper management, leadership and CHANGE COMMUNICATION.

Change Traps

Change Trap #3 – The Big Why

You can change a lot if you manage to inspire a genuine commitment to the reasons behind making the change in the first place.

The power of ‘why’ is easily understood if we just consider how we ourselves handle change. ‘You need to lose weight!’; ‘You need to learn how to make pivot tables in Excel!’; ‘You need more exercise!’; ‘You need to use our style guide when making PowerPoints!’. If you want to achieve any of these things, you need to both understand and feel the ‘Why’, right?

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