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3 Key Reasons Change Communication Messages Fail

  • Wednesday, September 23rd,2015
  • If you are like me, then you’d be thinking that given the number of times organisations embark on communicating change they would eventually get it right. But many things get in the way, not the least of which is thinking that communicating change is easy and that what works in one organisation will work in […]

    If you are like me, then you’d be thinking that given the number of times organisations embark on communicating change they would eventually get it right. But many things get in the way, not the least of which is thinking that communicating change is easy and that what works in one organisation will work in another. Those of us who develop change communication strategies know that this is not the case, change is difficult, it is different for every organisational culture and the approach needs to be customised each time.

    Here are the 3 key reasons change communication messages fail and what you can do about it to ensure that your change messages get traction.

    1. The first key mistake is when the focus of the message is on the what, not the why. The key message should not be about the project or the IT system, if that is what the change is about, it is always about the why. You need to explain how the change links to organisational strategy and specifically how what leaders and employees do in their role will change. The important aspect here is that the change is not just because of a new process but due to the organisational strategy behind its implementation. And yes you read that correctly, you need to connect the dots for leaders as well. Never assume that they understand the why behind a change initiative. If leaders are a key part of your communication approach as they always should be, then they must all be on the same page when it comes to explaining and supporting change initiatives.

    2. Many times the key message communicated to employees during transformation programs is the need to change the way they do things. Sometimes unintentionally the message is heard that they way they do things is wrong and needs to improve. Successful change communication focuses on what is good about what employees do and how together we can build on this. By focussing on positive messages and finding creative ways to communicate them and not relying on online tools, you have a much greater change of encouraging employees to participate and support chance initiatives.

    3. Change is never owned by the change team. The role of the change team is to provide the tools and techniques to enable transformation to occur within the organisation, change communication has to be owned by the leaders and employees within the organisation. If you stop and assess your current change programs, ask yourself the question, “When the change team ceases to exist will we have transferred capability and appetite to drive change within the organisation?” If the answer is no, then your change communication strategy will surely fail as it will only be transactional and not embedded into the culture of the organisation. The focus of any change communication strategy needs to be action oriented techniques, not just providing information on what is changing and when.

    Whether you are implementing new IT systems and processes, merging with another organisation or any other change initiative, the above 3 reasons why change communication fails provides an opportunity to reassess change communication to ensure successful organisational transformation.

    Marcia Xenitelis is a recognised authority on the topic of how organisations get traction with change and is a sought after speaker at conferences worldwide. For access to case studies and more information on the types of strategies you can implement to get employees excited about change visit www.marciaxenitelis.com for a wealth of free informative articles and resources. Marcia can also be contacted on +61 3 9889 9685 to discuss in house coaching, workshops and consulting services on communicating change.

    5 Ways To Engage Employees and Leaders With Change

  • Thursday, September 5th,2013
  • From my experience there are 5 proven ways that organisations can improve the level of engagement employees have with change. These changes may relate to organisational restructures, new strategy, the implementation of new IT systems, mergers or acquisitions, and is not limited to these change situations. The following are attributes of successful change: 1 Process […]

    From my experience there are 5 proven ways that organisations can improve the level of engagement employees have with change. These changes may relate to organisational restructures, new strategy, the implementation of new IT systems, mergers or acquisitions, and is not limited to these change situations. The following are attributes of successful change:

    1 Process changes behaviour

    2 Leadership Driven

    3 Focus on the Why not the what

    4 Communicate the tangible desired business results

    5 Measure, implement and reward

    So let’s explore the first one, process changes behaviour. When designing an engagement program it is important to ask yourself these questions.

    • What process can you design that changes the way people behave so that they do things differently to support your change program
    • Processes should be designed as part of a complete change communication approach particularly to support the strategic reasons behind the change
    • They should involve leaders at all levels of the organisation and employees

    So that brings us onto No 2 Change needs to be Leadership Driven.

    • Give leaders something to do, not just communicate, they should be driving a process and it must have activity that they review and provide feedback on
    • Make it relevant to their work area – they are busy with what they consider their “real job” so they need to see a direct business benefit, they don’t want to be seen a pseudo HR change manager
    • It is important to remember that you are an enabler of the change by designing processes for others to implement and drive the change, it is the leaders in the organisation that need to own the change process others it becomes a one off project not a sustained change

    No 3 is to Focus on the Why not the what, why are we doing what we are doing, what’s the strategy behind the change

    • It is all about the strategy not the actual change
    • IT system changes for example, the change is not about the new system but why this particular system, what will it enable us to do, why is that important
    • Link the dots between corporate strategy and change implemented locally so that employees understand how the organisation’s vision is coming to life

    No 4 was. Communicate the tangible desired business results

    • Give employees and leaders a tangible goal along the change implementation roadmap
    • Identify customer feedback, satisfaction scores, market share, retail sales and create a focus on what needs to improve and why and keep revisiting this
    • Allow employees the opportunity to contribute ideas to help organisations achieve their desired goals – frontline staff always in my experience know more about what would add value than a manager sitting in an office

    The final way Pilot, measure, implement and reward

    • Once you have identified those goals you then pilot processes to measure the impact on achieving them
    • Those changes that produced significant results in the pilot should then be measured across the company
    • Recognise and reward employees for their contribution

    Finally this approach to change then becomes business as usual, no matter what the strategy, employees and leaders know this is the way the organisation engages employees in the process of change.

    Change Communication – High Gain Questions That Get The Attention Of Leaders

  • Tuesday, August 13th,2013
  • The questions we ask when called in to develop a change communication strategy will always produce different outcomes. This article explores the difference between high gain questions and the typical questions we ask and the impact they have on developing a change communication strategy. Imagine a senior executive from a business unit contacts you, his […]

    The questions we ask when called in to develop a change communication strategy will always produce different outcomes. This article explores the difference between high gain questions and the typical questions we ask and the impact they have on developing a change communication strategy. Imagine a senior executive from a business unit contacts you, his area is embarking on the implementation of a new IT system and you have been asked to prepare the internal communication strategy.

    There are two ways you can go with this. The first is to ask the typical internal communication questions.

    When is the new system being launched?

    Who are the impacted audiences?

    What are the significant changes?

    Where can employees find training support?

    Who are the specific stakeholders and how will each be impacted?

    What specific online communication vehicles does your business unit use to communicate with specific stakeholders?

    And then you come back with a plan that outlines what will be communicated when, to whom and how. This approach will always facilitate a master – servant relationship, you get called in to produce information on what is changing and provide a service.

    High gain questions on the other hand produce a very different change communication approach and can directly impact the business strategy. So here are the types of questions you would ask.

    Why are you introducing this system? Now the answer could be because the current system will no longer be supported. That is not the reason. What you want to know is why this system, what will be different, will it provide the organisation with any new types of data? How will they use that data? Why is that important? Who else will use that data? Do they understand how to use the data?

    Another way to get information about the reason behind the why is to probe the changing environment in which the organisation operates. A good way to do this is to ask what data did you need five years ago, what data do you need today, what data will you need in 5 years time and why. What will have changed? How can staff prepare for that change? What can they do now that is different to the way they do their work so that they can prepare for the way forward?

    This provides you now with the framework to design a change communication strategy that will directly help the business get traction with strategy. So you would design a process that requires managers to communicate and have a specific conversation and drive actions locally. They would then be required to measure outcomes and report those activities and outcomes centrally. You would be focused on what employees could do and what processes you could put in place to ensure that behaviour changes and drives the strategic outcomes the business is seeking. Bottomline is that when change communication is focused on action oriented techniques it is always measured against what the business targets are.

    Then around this you would build information that specifically addresses improvements, achievements, team successes, measurement data, and the impact on the business. And you would have a role for managers at all levels to drive the outcomes and discuss them at their meetings. This could be leading process improvements, innovation, identifying new markets, products, or ways to improve the customer experience. They will be seeking to identify the improvements and processes that will drive business outcomes and traction with business strategy.

    Change communication is about energising the organisation to be innovative and at all levels to become engaged. This is so much more powerful that information about system implementation. And yes of course you need the information about the what, when, when and how of the system implementation.

    Always ask high gain questions of your clients and you will see the paradigm shift in how they value internal communication. You want a partner relationship not a master servant relationship that is service oriented. Focusing on high gain questions and designing a change communication strategy instead of an information strategy about change will ensure you get a seat at the table at the planning phase and will make your work so much more rewarding.

    How to get leaders to communicate change

  • Monday, July 29th,2013
  • The reason most leaders wont drive change communication initiatives is because they are about information that is readily available online and because when employees ask questions about the changes they feel unable to provide answers – therefore they avoid doing it. I wanted to provide an example of a change communication initiative I designed where […]

    The reason most leaders wont drive change communication initiatives is because they are about information that is readily available online and because when employees ask questions about the changes they feel unable to provide answers – therefore they avoid doing it.

    I wanted to provide an example of a change communication initiative I designed where the business was seriously underperforming and how we designed a change communication strategy that was driven by leaders at all levels of the organisation and had the impact of significantly improving business outcomes.

    This organisation is retail based, but this approach can be adapted for any industry sector. I initially worked with the executive teams at each level of the business to focus on business issues and develop change communication strategies to impact on those issues and bottom line outcomes. The profit results of each of the company owned stores were not good – they were losing money and managers were not equipped to make decisions about what to do to turn the situation around.

    Here are a series of steps that I followed to engage managers and staff to turn the profits of this business around.

    1. I encouraged managers to share profit results with their staff. So instead of staff coming in each day just to do a job, there was a paradigm shift in thinking about how they contribute to the bottom line outcomes of the business.
    2. I gave managers of each store some guidelines of how to communicate this information and what to do next.
    3. What to do next was discussed in their next staff meeting to encourage a conversation centered around improvements in the store, customer service, quality of products and to provide feedback on comments customers were making. This might be about lack of stock, lack of choice, price of goods etc.
    4. Then each store was given the opportunity for six weeks to implement just one idea and measure the impact – it had to be the idea that they all thought would have the greatest impact on business results.
    5. After six weeks they measured the impact, the store managers then presented these outcomes to the territory managers who had accountability for 12 stores. Looking at the results they then decided to implement the top three ideas that had the greatest impact on store results state wide. These were then discussed with regional managers who when they now visited sites met with staff as well. They now had something real to talk about that employees were directly involved in.
    6. After three months the regional results were in from across the country and the top 3 initiatives became the standard process in all stores.
    7. A newsletter was produced each month specifically to support this project with photos and stories from employees and managers
    8. A reward and recognition program was implemented specifically for this initiative.

    The outcomes were an organisation that had made a significant shift towards a retail culture which was reflected in bottom line outcomes. Employees identified retail opportunities and also improvements to the business outcomes. These actions were then implemented nationally. As a side benefit the retention issues reduced significantly and territory managers and store managers were able to show the impact of local decisions on specific retail sites.

    This is the essence of change communication – you have to make it meaningful for managers, to give them something they can own, discuss and link it to a business outcome.

    As always appreciate your thoughts and would like to hear about how you encourage leaders to communicate change initiatives.

    Change Communication and Stakeholder Analysis

  • Monday, January 7th,2013
  • When developing a change communication strategy there is nothing more important that analysing stakeholders. You need to understand all of them, segment them into key groups or individuals understanding the level of interest or impact that a change will potentially have on them. This is because rarely does a “one size fits all” approach work […]

    When developing a change communication strategy there is nothing more important that analysing stakeholders. You need to understand all of them, segment them into key groups or individuals understanding the level of interest or impact that a change will potentially have on them.

    This is because rarely does a “one size fits all” approach work when it comes to change communication. Who communicates with each stakeholder segment, how we communicate, what we communicate, the frequency and level of detail are all important.

    However it is even more important to consider exactly what behaviours the business need to see changed in order to achieve the desired outcomes and to say our change communication strategy has been successful. The main measure of any change communication strategy has to be contribution to business outcomes.

    So here are 10 key things to consider when undertaking a stakeholder analysis:

    1. For each stakeholder whether group or individual what is going to change for them?
    2. What is their level of support for the proposed changes?
    3. Have you identified who you need to work closely with and what change communication activities you can implement to ensure engagement?
    4. What will they need to do differently as a result of the changes?
    5. Therefore what will they need to know that they don’t know now?
    6. What is the best way to support them so that they in turn support the business changes?
    7. How can you design change communication activities that will involve them in the process of change rather than simply inform them about the changes?
    8. What communication tools work now that you can leverage?
    9. What communication tools need to be tweaked slightly so that they can be leveraged rather than replaced?
    10. How can you design change communication tools to support the change communication activities between stakeholders?

    The worst examples I have seen of stakeholder analysis and engagement plans is a list of stakeholders and the various information tools for each. By this I mean how regularly you will send emails, have one on one meetings, update the intranet etc. This is information, and whilst important changes very little in terms of behaviours and engagement.

    So if you focus on the above ten points this is a great basis for developing your change communication strategies. It provides a clear analysis of all segments of your audience, you understand their needs, concerns, and can then work out what involvement activities will assist in facilitating their support. You then can provide advice to key sponsors of the change program about your strategy to mitigate any possible people issues that could derail a program of change.

    And above all, importantly people feel good about the change, you have designed a change communication program that supports them, involves them and rewards them for their commitment.

    Why bother with Employee Engagement Surveys?

  • Sunday, March 29th,2009
  • One of the things that continues to surprise me is when times are bad organizations still spend money on employee engagement surveys. One would think that a general look around the organization and tea room discussions would make it obvious to all that wanted to see it that employees are not so much engaged as […]

    One of the things that continues to surprise me is when times are bad organizations still spend money on employee engagement surveys. One would think that a general look around the organization and tea room discussions would make it obvious to all that wanted to see it that employees are not so much engaged as they are worried about their jobs. This leads us to two major issues to consider during tough times, the first is how we inspire confidence and innovation in an organization that appears to be in freeze mode. The second is what you should measure as an indicator of employee engagement.

    Let’s deal with inspiring confidence and innovation in your organization. Well this boils down to a communication strategy that focuses on getting employees actively involved at all levels in understanding the business and how their ideas can have a positive impact. Here’s an example of what you could do. Take real business data and share it with groups of employees at all levels that deal with customers in specific sectors. Ask them for ideas on improving or innovating just one aspect of your service offering or product line and test in a specific market segment on a small scale, say a sales territory or state. Then after testing those ideas for a six week period ask employees to examine the business results. Take those ideas that have shown a substantial improvement in sales and implement either state wide or nationally depending on your organization. Design a reward and recognition program around the impact of these ideas on the business outcomes and start to energise your workforce. It really is that simple, treat employees with respect, stop telling them what to do instead listen to what they have to say, put some rigor around the framework for ideas and reward outstanding results. This is how innovation happens and how you can energise an organization to respond quickly to changing market conditions.

    So what about employee engagement surveys? I say save your organization the tens of thousands of dollars they cost and invest your time in a well thought out employee communication strategy like that outlined above. This will ensure a climate where communication is open, ideas are valued and actions are implemented. All these steps are indicative of a workforce that is focussed, has purpose and feels a greater level of confidence about the future of their organization and therefore their role because they are actively involved in designing the future, not being told what do and when to do it. If you just change the paradigm from budget cuts, budget cuts and budget cuts to opportunities, growth and involvement your organization’s business results will be your barometer of employee engagement, no survey required.

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