You’ve settled on a strategy. Congratulations! But now the clock is ticking. Strategies exist to move the organization to something new — something it doesn’t have today, something of value. The faster you get there, the better.

But how do you convert strategy to action — and not just at the VP level, but at every level of the organization? A memo isn’t going to do it. Getting everyone moving in the same direction is challenging, but you stand a fighting chance if you take a well-considered approach leveraging these key tactics.

  1. Communicate for action

When it comes to corporate communication, there’s a mistaken belief that a broadcast memo or announcement will do the trick. It won’t, and here’s why: Our natural response to any change is to evaluate it for threat and opportunity. Text-based messages rarely communicate enough for people to accurately assess whether a change is worth buying into or not.

  • Instead, beef up your communication by broadcasting with stories. Numbers about growth and cost savings can motivate a little, but stories really move people. Stories about what will happen once the change is implemented help people understand how it will make their world a better place, and invoke emotions that drive buy-in.
  • Make sure you to get up close and personal. Leaders at every level need to have personal conversations with employees that answer their questions and ensure they fully understand not only the direction, but what they need to do to get there successfully.
  • Open a two-way channel of communication. Employees and managers need to know where to direct those questions they can’t answer themselves. Leaders of change need to respond promptly to every request for clarity, even if it means repeating yourself.
  1. Leverage zones of influence

Not everyone experiences change the same way. You want to predict where the problems might occur. Two elements will give you an indication of how people will respond: desirability, and difficulty.

On a scale of 1 to 5, consider:

  • Is this change desirable? Does it offer any help or advantage for people? Are there benefits?
  • Will adopting this change be difficult? How many obstacles will a person perceive on the journey to embrace the change?

When you place those indicators on a grid, you can identify where each group is likely to land, how they will react, and what level of support they will need. For example, if they see that a change is desirable and easy to accommodate, it’s likely they won’t require much support or encouragement. If they perceive a change has no meaningful benefit and is going to be difficult to navigate, the probability of resistance is quite high. You’ll have to work closely with that group to reframe the message in more beneficial terms, and reduce the change into smaller, easier steps to create quick wins.

  1. Plan for failure

Planning for failure doesn’t make sense, does it? Your target is success — that’s what your plan needs to aim for. But we all know that plans never go as intended. There will be failures. The good news is that you can anticipate them and build momentum as you mitigate risk.

On the people side of change, the main reason we encounter failure is that people run into barriers along the way. When employees are trying to comply with or embrace the change, ask these questions to identify the barriers:

  • Will they have the required skills? Barrier:Competency
  • Will they have the time or need to put in overtime to make it work? Will managers approve it? Barrier: Conflicts with other commitments, budgets
  • Do they have the technology or tools required? Barrier:Outdated tech or lack of access
  • Will compliance put them in conflict with existing beliefs? Barrier:Values
  • Are managers able and willing to step up and help their people through change? Barrier:Coaching skills
  • Is everyone measured and rewarded for behaviors that serve the change? Barrier:Incentives

When you think through the journey of a person trying to adapt to change, considering barriers allows you to work on removing the obstacles before they become a reason to turn back and ignore or defy the change.

  1. Assess adoption and success

With barriers out of the way, you assume that you can really begin making progress toward the goal. How will you know if you’ve made it? More importantly, how will you know if people are proceeding in the right direction or if things are getting off track?

At the outset of your change program, ask these questions to determine both leading and lagging indicators of success.

  • What are the steps towards the goal that will indicate success?
  • What will employees who aren’t involved in the change notice?
  • What do you expect in terms of support calls or coaching requests along the way?
  • What is the final impact on customers, whether internal or external?
  • What is the outcome you want? What will people do differently? What will no longer be evident?

Managing change is a follower’s game. Impactful change demands leadership. Getting everyone moving in the same direction requires proactive measures on several fronts. Use these four steps to ensure you’re doing all you can to set the stage for your employees to follow. 

Watch my YouTube video, Supercharging Change: 3 Ways to Drive Adoption


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One Comment

  1. Mary Beth Imbarrato August 18, 2023 at 9:02 am

    @Jeff Skipper, thank you for writing this article and providing insights into change efforts and how to elevate your level of success. I did not see any mention of establishing a comprehensive change management program for the stakeholders. You mentioned the identification of how the changes may, or may not, impact the stakeholders, however, what will the project team do to address those impacts? That is a discussion for the project team. After identifying the strategy, the process I follow is to include the staff on that strategy and ask for input, and ideas, on how to achieve the goals. Based on their experiences and expertise, they might have some ideas from lessons learned or other scenarios that would be beneficial to this effort. The two-way channel of communication that you mention is great and I would suggest expanding that from just questions to implementation ideas. By including the staff in the overall planning the organization will be raising the level of commitment and buy-in.

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