People are not cogs
In an earlier post, we offered five ways to activate the enterprise. It covered approaches on what you need to do, but it didn’t address the key factor in whether those activities would ultimately succeed: people. Initiating change in any organization is never purely academic. Organizations are a collection of people. And people are beholden to self-interest and influenced by emotion. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. Done with care, you can harness the power of that self-interest and emotion, and transform uncertainty surrounding any major change into commitment and passion, your chance of a successful activation increase exponentially. And, you’ll have created an accelerated path to success.
Start at the top
Enterprise activation is, at its heart, a change management issue. And in most companies, unless you build consensus among senior management prior to asking for commitment from employees, managing change across multiple departments or business units can be akin to herding cats. If employees sense that their managers and leaders aren’t fully committed, or if they sense the change ultimately, “won’t take,” they may never actually undertake the behaviors asked of them.
Think of the early stages of consensus building among senior leadership as the beta test for activation across the enterprise as a whole. If there is resistance or hesitation at the top, it will only accelerate or amplify when the activation is rolled out to the rest of the organization.
Communicate the context
Activation is rarely embraced quickly or positively when delivered as an edict. Employees need and deserve context. Far too often, companies send out new-sheriff-in-town style memos outlining what is changing with little background on why, what the implications are and how those changes fit into the long-term vision for success. One approach might be to follow a simple narrative outline that covers:
- What factors (external or internal) prompted the need or desire for change
- How leadership arrived at the approach to address that need
- What the impending change looks like and the time frame within which they will be implemented
- What the expected positive outcomes of those changes are
- What mechanisms for providing feedback or asking questions are available and how inquiries or suggestions will be considered by management
Enhance communications with metaphors, analogies, examples and stories
Stories are one of the most powerful tools for engaging any audience. And the more complicated the plan being presented, the more powerful a strategically wielded anecdote, metaphor or analogy can be. Metaphors and analogies can help people begin to understand and evaluate the implications any proposed change in a framework abstracted from its direct impact on their position in the firm. In other words, stories are a highly relatable way to express what the changes mean, not simply what the changes are.
Address any elephants in the room directly
An “elephant,” in most enterprise settings, would be any aspect of the impending activation plan that will affect what employees earn or the amount of time it takes them to earn it. Even if that means something as seemingly ”fun” as a kickoff party planned for what would normally be a non-work Saturday. Or, if it means something more dramatic, like people would have revised job descriptions. In any case, it pays to anticipate those impacts and address them upfront.
Repeat, repeat, repeat (and vary the medium of communication)
It’s one thing for an idea to be heard. It’s quite another for an idea to be understood. That’s certainly not a new concept for anyone charged with marketing or communications, but all too often companies expect that once a program has been communicated, everyone should consider themselves “informed.” But garnering change from any population, corporate or otherwise, requires repetition. A rule of thumb long held in media and advertising is that the minimum level of impressions needed to become top of mind, let alone trusted, is five. The dynamic holds for internal campaigns as well. Further, since we are all getting much better at tuning out intrusive messaging, it helps to provide those impressions over a variety of media.
Simply think of your own experience. Imagine you’ve seen the same email header twice. The third time it arrives atop an incoming message, you’ll likely not even notice it’s there. But if the third impression arrives on a mug, emblazoned with the theme line for your internal activation campaign—third hit noticed. Follow that with a mention of support for the program in the CEO’s monthly town hall address. Noticed. What about creating a rap song performed by upper management? No. Never do that. But you get the idea. The more and different ways you can reinforce the program with employees, the smoother and faster the adoption.
Ultimately, speak to the enterprise like you would want to be spoken to individually
Regardless of what industry you’re in, or the size of the company, human nature remains constant. Every employee or stakeholder wants first to know what’s in it for them and what about their day-to-day work life will change and what it all means. So, for any enterprise activation program to be successful, you have to address those issues.