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communication cascade

Three Myths of Change Management

My attention span is less than 12 minutes.

A majority of change management efforts in organizations fail. Indeed, the failure rate may be as high as 70%. As we’ve discussed before (click here), strategy and culture are intertwined. Before you change your strategy, you’ll probably need to change your culture. But, if the failure rate is 70%, is it even worth trying? Not if you believe in myths.

According to Bain & Company, there are three great myths that inhibit the success of change management efforts. Let’s look at each of these today. (For the complete article, click here).

Myth #1: As long as the effect on people is minimized, change will succeed. To change successfully, we all know that the whole organization needs to coalesce around a common vision. That’s easy to say but hard to do. If you’re being disrupted, you may not want to align around somebody else’s vision. So smart change managers identify those employees that are likely to be most disrupted and invite them to co-create the vision. This often takes the form of workshops “that help the leadership team paint a clear picture of what the change will look like when it’s finished.”

Myth #2: So much about change is irrational and hard to predict. Bain & Company has developed a list of 30 specific risks that can disrupt change. The list is not surprising; in fact, it’s very predictable. You can organize the risks into five major categories: 1) Balance ambition; 2) Mobilize leaders; 3) Change behaviors; 4) Shape execution; 5) Extend success. The 30 risk factors occur in “predictable patterns” and only a handful will be disruptive at any given time. By studying the predictable patterns and applying them to your organization, you can create heat maps that help you focus your attention on the right spots at any stage of the change process.

Myth #3: All you need is good leadership and day-to-day management. Once you start a major change process, you put immense stress on your organization. Weird things start to happen. For instance, people in normal business situations may have an attention span of an hour or so. In stressed out organizations, attention spans shrink to about 12 minutes. People may retain only 20% of the information they receive. Stressed employees will tune you out altogether if they think you’re not credible or that you don’t care about them. They’ll decide in roughly 30 seconds whether you’re trustworthy or not. Even the best orators find it difficult to establish trustworthiness in 30 seconds. That’s why it’s so important to deliver high-stress information via sponsors that the audience already trusts. Normal communication doesn’t work in a high stress situation. You need to simplify your message and deliver it through trusted channels. (For more on trusted channels and message cascades, click here).



Change Management: The Sponsorship Cascade

We’re cascading the message to you.

Remember the ice cream theory of communication? (Click here). It’s a cascade of information flowing step-by-step to the target you want to influence. Say that you want to influence the trade press. You know that reporters will want to know what analysts think, so you brief analysts before you talk to reporters. Analysts will want to now what customers think, so you brief customers before analysts. And so on.

The ice cream theory also works with internal communications — especially when big changes are afoot. When an organization needs to launch big changes, it often puts the CEO on a video broadcast to all employees. Everybody hears it at the same time. What’s wrong with that? Well, frankly … nobody trusts the CEO. It’s not that the CEO is a bad person; it’s just that most employees don’t know him or her. Without a personal relationship, it’s hard to know whom to trust. It’s like sending a press release to a reporter without first preparing the rest of the ice cream cone. The reporter needs further confirmation. So do your employees.

Bain & Company develops this concept in two parts: 1) the sponsorship spine; 2) the communication cascade. The sponsorship spine is very similar to the ice cream cone. Ask yourself two questions: Who are we trying to influence? Whom do they trust? Let’s say you’re trying to influence Department Z. Whom do they trust? Well … it’s Mary, a long-term employee who is widely respected for her experience and wisdom. Mary may or may not be Department Z’s manager. Then ask another question: whom does Mary trust? Let’s say it’s Inga. Then, whom does Inga trust? Let’s say it’s Grover. Keep asking the whom-do-they-trust question until you’ve reached the executive suites. You’ve now established the sponsorship spine.

Once you’ve identified the spine, you can start the cascade. The key ideas are to start from the top, speak to people who know you and trust you, speak to them personally in face-to-face settings, and always invite feedback (and listen carefully to it). If you need to make adjustments based on the feedback, then do so. Then ask the people you’ve spoken with to cascade the message down one level. Repeat the process throughout the organization. Ultimately, everybody in the organization hears the message personally from someone they trust.

And what about the CEO? He or she can still play a role. My advice is that the CEO should speak after the cascade is complete. The CEO confirms and reinforces the message, but doesn’t introduce it. People hear the message from a trusted source and then have it verified by someone in authority. That reinforces the sponsor’s trustworthiness and speaks to both our emotional and our logical sides. That, in turn, helps the message sink in and prepares us for action.

You can find the full article from Bain & Company by clicking here.

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