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Change is Always Coming

Change is the new normal but then there is the old maxim “the only constant is change”, so it was the old normal, too.

If you are still in the workplace after the early 1990s (or the early 2000s, or 2008/09), then you know that things keep changing. If you’ve entered the workforce in the last 10 years, you wonder why everything at your job is so out of date; you want and expect change.

Let’s agree on one thing – if you’re alive today, you know change is coming. From having the world shaken with globalization, computation, and digitized media, we are now entering a world of smart things, energy revolution, and global climate disruption.

The pace of change and its impact on our work is not going to slow down.

One of the first things we need to do is stop talking around the issue. We can qualify what type of change it is – innovation, acquisition, skills improvement, automation, divestment – but we need to own it. Euphemisms are what people do at funerals. Organizational change needs to be at the core of the organization, and it needs to be framed in terms of new beginnings, direction, and focus.

Price and Lawson (The psychology of change management. McKinsey, 2003) neatly summarized the four basic conditions necessary for employees to change their behaviour:

  • Compelling story, because employees must see the point of the change and agree with it;
  • Role modeling, because they must also see the CEO and colleagues they admire behaving in the new way;
  • Reinforcing mechanisms, because systems, processes, and incentives must be in line with the new behaviour; and
  • Capability building, because employees must have the skills required to make the desired changes.

Internal communication plays a significant role in each of these.

From a communication perspective, role modeling, reinforcing, and capability building are about keeping top-of-mind awareness of new behaviours. This is critical to normalizing and strengthening commitment to these behaviours until they are entrenched. Leadership visibility, recognition, townhalls, employee panels, social media, and online forums all have important communication functions in this regard.

The compelling story is a different thing, and is interesting for its nuance. It’s one leaders and communicators have to consider closely, because what motivates one member of your team (or yourself), isn’t the same for the other members [McKinsey (2009). Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller. The irrational side of change management.]. When asked what motivates managers and employees, workforces across cultures tend to subdivide into five roughly equal groups, motivated by:

  • Impact on society (e.g. building the community and stewarding resources)
  • Impact on the customer (e.g. providing superior service)
  • Impact on the company and its shareholders (e.g. building the business)
  • Impact on the working team (e.g. creating a caring environment)
  • Impact on “me” personally (e.g. my development, paycheck, and bonus)

We’ve seen a number of CEOs kick off their leadership with a renewed call for a “focus on the customer” and that’s great – that connects directly to the company’s purpose. And that customer outcome is directly motivating for about a fifth of the workforce.

The other 80% aren’t opposed to that, it just isn’t what gets them out of bed early. They need to hear how the story improves society and the company, or creates opportunities for their teams to work better or for individuals to do interesting work.

When you have a compelling story that aligns all these motivations, you unlock the full power of the organization in a way that takes care of customers and the business, that takes care of the people on your teams and the communities you work in, and provides opportunities that grow the careers of individuals.

And this is why we believe that it’s hard to understate the importance of internal communications today. When change is constant, your communication team needs to be constantly shaping this story within the organization to provide a strong foundation for the entire organization.


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