Any leader who’s tried to implement even the smallest organizational change knows that no matter how needed the change is or how carefully it's planned, a successful change implementation comes down to one factor – buy-in.
According to a 2014 McKinsey & Company study of more than 2000 executives in 900 companies across various industries, there is one clear standout success factor in implementing change. When asked about the factors most responsible for successful change outcomes over the past five years 67% of respondents cited “clear, organization-wide ownership of and commitment to change across all levels of the organization” as having the greatest impact on a major change effort’s outcome.
How can you create this commitment to change? A change vision.
In the Forbes article How to Create a Powerful Vision for Change author John Kotter states, “If you are part of an organization that is trying to drive a large change, whether that’s implementing a new IT system or moving to a new go-to-market strategy, you need to have a change vision. This is a picture for people of what the organization will look like after they have made significant changes, and it also shows them the opportunities they can take advantage of once they do that. It serves to motivate people, and it’s essential to any successful change you’re trying to make.”
A change vision is different from an overall corporate vision in that it is specific to the change you are trying to implement, it's internal-facing rather than external-facing, and its sole purpose is to educate and motivate staff.
A good change vision has three elements. It’s simple, memorable and well communicated.
Define your future state, in simple terms. What will the organization look like after the change and more importantly, what opportunities will you be able to take advantage of because of the change? Your change vision should be simple to communicate, a few sentences will do, and it should be easily understood at all levels of the organization, across all geographic locations. A basic formula is – When we change to THIS, we will be able to do THIS and we will reap THESE rewards.
Make it memorable. Inspire passion or at least a willingness to change. Most people resist change, especially changes to their work processes or environment. Your change vision should communicate that while sacrifices will be made, they will be worth it. Remember that everyone reading and listening to this change vision will be thinking “what’s in it for me?” so be sure to make that as clear and inspirational as possible. People want to feel like they belong to something bigger – help them find their place in your change vision.
Get the word out. Tell it, tell it, and tell it again. Nothing will kill your change effort faster than poor communication. Because you’ve been planning this change for months and discussing it with key stakeholders it can feel like it’s all you're ever talking about. It may seem that “communication” regarding the change is on overload, but that is not how it's perceived by the greater organization. Many leaders assume that because they announce the change in a company staff meeting and then follow it up with a post on the company intranet or newsletter the change has been effectively communicated. That is a false assumption. To be effective your change vision should be repeatedly communicated, across as many channels as possible, as often as possible. Just when you feel you cannot possibly talk about the change vision again – do it one more time.
While organizational change can be difficult, it is necessary. Creating a simple but inspirational change vision will not only ease the transition, but it will also motivate and retain staff.