Building the Foundation for Change

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Trying to make a significant change in an organization without first building a compelling case for that change – a foundation for change – is about as effective as trying to move a mountain with a single shovel.

Chances are that no matter what change you’re proposing, some of your stakeholders and employees are going to balk. Others will dig in their heels. A few may covertly stage a mutiny. As frustrating as these behaviors can be, they’re predictable and understandable, especially if your employees’ jobs and daily lives are going to significantly change because of your initiative.

Instead of engaging in a battle of wills, put your energy into building a strong foundation for your change before you announce your plans and begin the change project. To garner the support that your change project will require to succeed, guide your change project team through the process of creating an airtight case for the change and a communications campaign to strategically educate and inform stakeholders and employees.

The four primary steps to building the foundation for change

  1. Create a compelling case for the change project
  2. Formulate an effective communications campaign
  3. Reinforce the need for and benefits of the change project
  4. Invite stakeholders to participate in the change process

Create a Compelling Case for Change

Your case for change is a persuasive argument that justifies the outcome of your change project. It provides the guiding force behind the change initiative and is also your primary reference for creating presentations, brochures, and other communication tools.

Make your case for change as clear, concise, and straightforward as possible, without leaving out important information or details. Ensure that the logic and reasoning you present is sound and founded on valid research. When you and your change project team are preparing the case, keep the values and concerns of your stakeholders uppermost in your mind.

You should be able to show that your change project is not just possible and desirable; it is a critical mission that calls for immediate action. Conclude your case with a powerful call to action, telling stakeholders and employees at all levels of the organization how they can be involved and what they can do to help.

Formulate an Effective Communications Campaign

An effective communications campaign is the best way to present your case to the stakeholders and employees. The communication campaign should include all of the communication you plan to do (both formal and informal) and all the important details associated with each piece of information.

Your communication campaign should paint a clear and engaging vision for the future. It should include face-to-face presentations, written materials such as flyers, brochures, newsletter articles, letters, and memos, and possibly an Internet site or phone line to continuously update stakeholders and respond to questions.

Reinforce the Need for Change

One of the most convincing ways to show stakeholders that changes need to be made is to compare your organization’s productivity, effectiveness, and profits with those of competing companies.

The key is showing that the way you plan to “do better” makes sense and is critical to the continued success of the company, satisfaction of customers, and ultimately – job security. Always address the “What’s in it for me?” question.

You have to show stakeholders what the change is and what it means by providing visual aids, and illustrating your points with success stories that they can readily relate to. And then, you need to go the extra mile.

Going the extra mile means painting a vivid and positive picture of how the organization will run once the change is implemented. Each part of painting this picture is going to involve your best creative thinking and that of your change team.

Invite Stakeholders to Participate

Invite stakeholders to participate in the change project and offer them specific options to be involved in planning and implementing the change. The more input they have in the decision-making process, the more they will buy into and champion the change. Giving stakeholders “hands-on” tasks increases their ownership and understanding of the project.

It is not necessary to know every detail of how every part of the change will work when you are just beginning. In fact, telling stakeholders and employees that some of the details have not been determined lets them know there is room for their input and suggestions. It allows you to sincerely question them and get their feedback so it can be weighed and considered.

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Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On June 9, 2008
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