The importance of storytelling for business change

With continual change becoming the new norm for modern business, the chances are, no matter what industry or sector you work in, that you’ve experienced work-based change first-hand at least once during your career.

Most of us are able to recount our experiences of being involved in change to varying degrees, and we most certainly have our opinions on whether we feel we really understood the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’.
Let’s be honest, business case language can be fairly dry and statistics can be pretty dull on their own – they aren’t compelling to the majority of the workforce and certainly don’t convey a meaningful story. But, all too often, we hear of organisations who haven’t adequately considered their change story, what it means to the organisation outside of the boardroom, and how they are going to ensure that all areas of their workforce really understand it and get behind it. I’m sure that most of you reading this have experienced business change where you were left thinking ‘why are we doing this, and what does this mean for me?’

So what’s the importance of the change story?

We know that people are much more likely to get on-board with organisational change if they feel they understand the ‘why?’ This includes the reason for change, and for changing right now, what the change looks like, and most importantly – what it means for them.
This means taking the business case as a starting point and turning it into a meaningful, honest narrative which speaks to everyone.

As change and communication experts, we know that you won’t find the whole story in the boardroom. You need to build up a rounded picture, and this could involve desk research (engagement surveys, for example), benchmarking surveys, focus groups and one-to-one interviews with people from the affected teams.

There are a number of ways to extract the narrative and co-create the story with people, building on the business case

  • Find out how things work at the moment – how does ‘stuff’ get done and do people think it generally works well? If there’s a consensus that it doesn’t– why is that?
  • Explain why things are changing and ask how and why the old ways of working can be improved.
  • Explain what will happen if the business doesn’t change.
  • Ask how people think they can go about changing – what do they need to commit to, where will they need support and are there any ‘quick wins’ which can help to get things moving forward.

Read our blog post on Storytelling techniques

Weaving the story into communications and engagement

After the story is uncovered there are a range of options to bring information, like statistics, the business case and details of technology-change to life.

The one-pager

The communications framework is your one-page summary of the story. It will contain facts but also the key messages, the language, and learnings from the engagement and discovery work. Once you have this narrative recorded, your subsequent communications can carry the story and bring it to life.

Smart visual identity

a key part of telling the story is how it looks. A consistent visual identity will complement your core messaging and bring the story to life. This is your opportunity to create something visually compelling which provokes interest and curiosity and helps to bind your communications.

Characters

These give depth to a story and if you use names, department and showcase actual roles, people identify with them and trust the story more.

Using visuals

Infographics are helpful in visually showing statistics in a way that tell a story which involves data, in clear, simple terms.

Build the story as you go along

Building upon the story throughout the change ensures that it stays relevant and helps to keep people connected to it. A great example of this is helping people to create videos of their experiences – it means they get involved in telling the story and owning it. We’ve seen some great outputs from people working on the front line whether on rigs, on the rail or at local offices, and the result works well to unite people working in different places with similar experiences.

 

I Hope you found this useful.  Please get in touch if you’d like to discuss any of the tactics listed here, or share your ideas.

 

We frequently post our thoughts, ideas and tips on: change management, learning and communications, PPM, employee engagement and culture.

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Compelling communications – the key to successful business change

Compelling communications are vital if your change programme is to be a success. Even if your business change involves a dry technology update, there will always be a people side of the story to tell.

Once you start thinking about this, you will find opportunities to create a real buzz about the changes ahead. Try injecting your next communication with our winning formula below.

Give your campaign a heart

Your campaign needs creative messaging that engages the people at the heart of the change. To achieve this, you should identify those impacted early on and involve them from the start.

We’ve had great feedback from our stakeholder workshops, which bring together representatives from different groups to discuss how the change will impact each of them. This is a good opportunity to find out what inspires your audience, what makes them proud to be part of your organisation and how they really feel about the planned change.

Armed with this information, you can begin to build an engaging campaign that targets everyone effectively.

Tell a good story

When presenting a business change, it’s natural to start talking about facts, numbers and financial benefits. Although important, this is unlikely to make your audience really care about your project or feel inspired to change their behaviour.

For more impact, you should aim to tell a story that makes the change relevant to your stakeholders’ day-to-day work. Opening with a personal experience that is relatable and clearly demonstrates the reason for change will grab their attention from the start. Visual language will also draw people in by encouraging them to picture the scenario in their head as you speak.

Once your audience understands the need for change, you can then set out your vision of the future by giving realistic examples of how things will be different. You should help people to imagine a positive new way of working that benefits them and the customers they care about. This is a far more effective way to inspire behavioural change than presenting cold facts.

Develop a distinct identity

A creative identity that can be applied across all communication materials will help your project stand out from the other programmes. To ensure this is engaging, you should work closely with your stakeholders to design something that visually represents what the change means for them.

We’ve seen particular success by creating illustrated characters which can bring the journey to life for different roles within the business. This ‘family’ of characters can be used to target key messages and benefits for different impacted roles. You can use them to build a story of how each role will transition through the change and how they will need to behave differently.

Attract attention with video

Video is a great way of getting across your key messages consistently and passionately to a global audience. We’ve seen successful engagement through videos that give senior leaders the opportunity to share their vision and address key concerns.

User-generated content is another effective way to tell the story from an employee’s perspective, which can feel more genuine to the audience. However, a clear brief is vital to set out the objectives and provide filming guidelines to ensure high-quality footage.

Take a look at our vBlog on user-generated content

If your change involves a new process, bringing it to life through animation can also really help people visualise how it will work. This can make your message far more engaging than more traditional process maps or wordy procedures, and can also be an opportunity to sell the benefits.

Afiniti has worked with many global organisations to develop compelling communications that make change stick. If you are interested in learning more, please get in touch.

If you’re thinking about cyber security, you should also think about behaviour change

It’s no longer an option to view cyber attacks as something that happens to someone else, some other organisation, or just a technical issue.  It’s now standard practice for all large organisations to have measures in place to protect themselves and their assets, and these measures often include an element of culture and behaviour change .

I’ve recently been involved in a project where I helped a client change the way their workforce viewed cyber security and embed a set of new highly-secure behaviours.

The project has been very successful and I’ve even found my own behaviour changing as a result – I’ve signed up for a password manager and my laptop is now a veritable fort knox!

So what do we mean by cyber security?

In its simplest terms, cyber security is the protection of an individual’s or organisation’s cyber assets.

To protect cyber assets you need to worry about physical security as well as cyber security.  This is where you need to think about the culture and behaviours of the organisation – there’s no point having great firewalls in place, if you leave the door to your server room open!

What is a cyber threat?

There are a number of different types of cyber threat, including state-sponsored attacks, insider threats, cybercrime, cyberterrorism, physical threats (staff members leaving doors or computers unlocked) and ‘hacktivism’ (hacking a system for social or political gain). Each company will have a different profile in terms of which of these threats are the most probable and how serious the consequences of a breach could be.

How does an organisation protect itself against cyber attack?

If people don’t understand, endorse and actively support cyber security consistently throughout an organisation, it’s just a matter of time before the best of systems will be compromised.

As change professionals, the area we add value is in helping our clients identify and embed the behaviours that will support the other measures (such as technological protection) they have in place. This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ – if people don’t understand, endorse and actively support cyber security consistently throughout an organisation, it’s just a matter of time before the best of systems will be compromised.

Affecting large-scale behavioural change

Let’s be clear about one thing: change is hard! I get uncomfortable changing my brand of toothpaste. So effecting meaningful, lasting change can’t just be a top-down approach.  For behaviours to adapt, and for change to be truly adopted, all affected staff need to take ownership and understand the importance of the change.

Here are some key methods and approaches we use at Afiniti to help our clients ensure long-term and sustainable behavioural change is achieved across the whole organisation.

1.       Build sustainable toolkits and communications

This can’t be a one-off short-burst campaign, it needs to be rolled out over a period of time for the desired behaviours to become embedded as second nature.

To help maintain a high level of interest throughout the project, try a mix of communication styles from hard-hitting and informative to softer, more subliminal messaging.

And lastly, by using a blend of channels and methods, plus appropriate language and tone, you can ensure your key messages reach all intended audience groups.

2.       Co-create and utilise real people to generate awareness and validate the programme

Take the time to understand people’s opinions and insights into their areas of work, and then involve them in the project planning and execution. This way you’ll not only gain a more rounded understanding of the business needs, but people will feel invested in the project from the beginning.

Once people feel on board and understand the importance of the changes, work with them to create content such as short videos and workshops.  This type of user-generated content can really help with marketing to external audience groups, so why not reap the benefit for your internal communications efforts too?  It’s often cheaper, more authentic and more trusted by internal audiences.

Check out our vBlog of top tips for creating user-generated content

3.       Use creative and eye-catching visual assets

As they say ‘an image can convey a thousand words’ and this is certainly true when you’re trying to present a set of important key messages. Trying to condense a long white paper into a punchy animation or presentation can be a difficult thing to do, but it also forces you to concentrate on the things that really matter and helps to bring ideas and concepts to life.

4.       Create a security champions network

By giving tools and training to a group of security champions, you can create a community which supports the wider workforce on a day-to-day basis.  The champions can share experiences, best practice and be a point of call for questions, ideas and concerns. It also really helps to see respected colleagues modelling the desired behaviours.

Read our article on Making change stick by getting the whole team on board

It’s important to bear in mind that changing behaviours and mindsets doesn’t happen overnight, these things take time to embed. The tools and approaches above will help you maintain momentum and create the emotional engagement you need to embed the desired ways-of-working on a permanent basis.

If you have any interesting insights, or experiences of behaviour change related to cyber security, we’d be interested in hearing from you, so leave us a comment.

Four ways to create communications tools that last

Those of us who work in communications frequently support our organisation through major change. And for change managers, often the most challenging part of delivering change is what happens after the project has finished.  We need to find ways of embedding the new processes or behaviours and making them stick.

This calls for communications tools that last, are repeatable and sustainable, and have a life beyond the project.

During business change, you’re asking colleagues to change the way they work. They’ll need reliable information, clear motivation and moreover, a shared story that connects any current disruptions to how things will be in the future.

It’s a time to invest in ‘sustainable communication tools’ – these are tools that come to life the more they’re used. For example, an online portal sustained by its own user community, or a visual identity that brings impact and character wherever it’s used. A colleague of mine calls them ‘Future-proof tools’.

Done right, these brilliant concepts can pay for themselves quickly. They’ll inspire people to share content and contribute their own; they can create a stronger sense of a collective journey to a common goal.

Based on our extensive client experience, here are four things to focus on to create effective, long-term communications tools:

1. Culture fit. Devise a tool that suits how people interact now

It’s a common mistake to introduce a platform, like an enterprise social network, that’s at odds with an existing culture. Change teams may hope that people will somehow change their ways when they see it. However culture is, by nature, hard to adjust and successful programmes will work within their audience’s current preferences. There’s room to adjust engagement methods later if people start to become more adventurous.  Also, tools cannot be just left to manage themselves.  You will need to maintain them regularly by prompting people for content, asking questions and making suggestions.  While this can be time consuming to begin with – it will become easier over time, if successful.

2. Usability. Strip back and simplify

It can make sense to offer just a little information, if it means the bigger picture is easier to understand.  We’ve been working with a pharma company who found that complex new role descriptions were getting in the way of business change. People were distracted by the terminology and said they switched off when they received emails about it. The client took a fresh stakeholder management approach using an online campaign to simplify who does what. A team member said: “These people are scientists, inquisitiveness is part of workplace culture. Start with something simple and they’ll ask the right questions as and when they need to”.  So if you’ve developed a campaign that needs to run, keep things simple.  People like ‘simple’.  They are faced with complicated jargon every day so would welcome any effort made to make things easier for them to understand and act on.

3. Identity. Give the programme some character

A great identifier can increase the sense of a shared journey for everyone going through change. It could be a name, image or any visual that works with the organisation’s brand. We’d call it a communications tool because it does an important job in connecting activities together. For example, an oil and gas client won awards for its use of a three day change event to support major change. A strong programme identity ran through diverse activities, highlighting the fact that everything’s connected.

4. Involvement. People will only carry ‘their’ communications tool

Regardless of format, a communications tool will grow because people want it to. The more relevant it feels to individuals, the more they’ll invest. For example, companies often appoint ‘change champions’ but unless these individuals feel in control they’ll struggle to truly ‘champion’ change. Recognising this, a client created a guidance document for its new change champions. It provided key facts and pointers. Champions could talk about change in their own words, but with confidence supported by the right facts.

Read our blog for ideas on how to ensure people are onboard for your change journey

 

Overall, the true test of a sustainable communications tool is whether it connects people to the same purpose, and has a life after the project closes.  We like to pop back to clients to see how they are getting on with the sustainable tools left behind.  Given the right support and guidance, we are often surprised at how well they are working.

How does change management fit with project management?

There is, understandably, some confusion about how change management activities sit alongside project management.

After all, project management provides for comms and learning, so what’s the need for additional change management?
Looking at the success rate of projects, we can see there is great additional need for a structured approach to managing the people aspect of change.

Working at portfolio level – transformational change

This looks at projects from a portfolio, organisational perspective. If your organisation is faced with complex transformation, involving multiple projects, typical project management activities around comms and learning will not be enough to steer the organisation’s people towards a desired future state – efforts at the project level will simply be too fragmented. Change management allows for a portfolio top-down view of the way in which a business’s people will move from the present state to a future desired state.

Designing change with people in mind

At the beginning, project management includes a focus on initial stakeholder analysis, mapping and communications planning. However, change management goes further to plot the impact of the change/s on the organisation and teams.

This is the important part, without the buy-in and engagement of the organisation’s people, the project is likely to encounter negativity and push-back, with project managers spending precious time fighting fires and rescuing relationships.

The change management team will get to grips with the culture and beliefs of the different teams involved, understanding that potentially, each of these groups have their own unique attributes and preferences.  Feedback will be gathered directly from people on how the proposed changes could affect them, and how their day-to-day working may be impacted.

Building this initial picture and understanding of the organisation’s teams is the first step in a structured approach to the people aspect of change. Next the change management team will carry out impact analysis, change readiness assessment, and initial stakeholder research in order to outline a strategy to manage resistance and fulfil communication and engagement roles.

Factoring people in at the beginning means that barriers to adoption can be clearly identified and proactively dealt with.

Adding depth to the delivery of change to people

Articulating the reasons for the change, from a people and business perspective, comes directly from having the above people-focused approach to planning and strategy. A clearer vision comes from conveying the wider context of change and what that will mean for people. The story of why the change is happening is given a broader strategic level context.

From that it is easier to produce the blueprint for a visual identity, and a set of messages that create impact for teams and individuals. Inspiring people with a story, the context for the change and what it will mean for them are all made possible by the more structured people-focused planning and strategy which is afforded by change management.

Further, change management activities create a network of local support during the project delivery. Change champions are equipped to communicate and endorse the change. Special attention is given to line managers, sponsors and this change network to enable them to fulfil the goal of not just pushing messages out, but receiving input and monitoring how the change is being received and adopted by people.

An IT manager may deliver change focusing on communicating the benefits and training people to use new technology or process. However, change management process takes this further. Feedback and response mechanisms are formalised and structured.  It provides coaching for senior leaders and sponsors on how to identify the root causes of resistance and how to engage and manage resistance when it happens.

Read our article on managing resistance to change.

Training becomes another opportunity to engage with people and obtain their buy-in and genuine participation. Change management activities relating to training focus on how it can be made more interactive, designed for feedback, and feature the organisation’s people in the delivery – all with the core messaging throughout.

Post implementation we find that change management’s people focus means that people are rewarded and acknowledged for their adoption of the new, reinforcing the change after ‘go-live’. Feedback from people improves process and ensures the changes adapt to meet their original goals.

Good practice reminders for writing your communications strategy

Come on, be honest, how many times have you googled ‘How to write a communications strategy’?  I admit I have done so in the past, more than once.

Looking back, it’s understandable: your communications strategy represents an expedition. It maps what you want, how you plan to get it and all that might affect the journey. The strategy covers everything and yet to be useful, it must be utterly concise.

So to reduce people’s future googling, here are five things to consider when writing a strategy for communications to support people change.

1. Explore like a journalist

Any successful communications strategy will have people at its heart. You need to understand your audience: their environment and attitudes. A formal approach will include a full situation analysis. At a pinch, gather statistical and anecdotal evidence to understand your client organisation, its history, culture and the people.

Clearly, the more you know about the population you seek to change, the more accurately you can set your strategic objectives and meet them.

2. Your communications strategy should tie your goal to corporate objectives

Your strategy won’t be supported by business leadership unless it’s linked to what the organisation is trying to do. Make this connection obvious when you define the strategy’s purpose. For example, “This is a strategy to have people adopt automated HR by 2018, in order to meet our ops efficiency vision.”

And if you can do this using an engaging visual diagram, then even better.

3. Know exactly what you want people to do differently

Clarify what you want people to think, feel and do as a result of the change, and keep checking the strategic activities against that. Too often, things drift from these goals, especially when working with limited resources.

For example, an oil and gas client wanted to get better cohesion from one of their fastest growing business units. The strategy included an approach to run project meetings more effectively. They wanted people to stay focused on milestones. However the individuals involved traditionally used their face to face meetings for getting issues off their chest. It became obvious that for behavioural change, the client would need to either create additional opportunities to vent, or extend the standard meeting agenda to include it!

4. Build messaging around audience types to support your communications strategy

Develop a tight message framework around audience segments. People find it much easier to keep sight of their plans when they can picture the broad groups they’re aiming at.

For manageability, we’d recommend consolidating to five segments or fewer and creating generalised ‘personas’ to help bring these audience types to life. For example, imagine Trevor, the warehouse manager, who acts on instinct and no longer trusts automated systems (because he’s seen enough come and go). How will he respond to a request to join online training for a new warehouse management system? Again, your strategy is at its most reliable when it’s designed closely around people and their attitudes.

5. Measure and be nimble

More than just tracking progress, measurement is about being ready to respond to performance indicators. That way, you can show audiences that you’re listening as well as taking action to keep the strategy on track.

This means including qualitative feedback along with your metrics. For instance, set up a monthly panel to get ‘word on the street’ feedback as you go.

Then make sure that there is enough flexibility to answer this feedback with alternative activities. This gives room for a level of two way interaction with audiences, which keeps communications and change activities feeling fresh.

With these broad points in mind, it should be easier to draft a communications strategy that is focused enough to resonate with audiences, but avoids getting stuck in the detail. Remember, your strategy should engage your audience and resonate personally to increase the success of change adoption.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this outline – is there a sixth point we should cover though? Let us know in the comments below.

Effective change networks

During business change initiatives, Change Champions and / or change networks are well established, not controversial, and often of huge value.

Certainly, we’re rarely involved in an initiative without there being Change Champions or equivalent.  Despite that we still observe behaviours that can trip Champions up, rendering them ineffective.  And it’s not all about recruiting the right people.

First, there’s inadequate engagement or equipping.  Champions are recruited casually, receive little in the way of training or toolkits, and feel they’re being ignored.  As a result Champion commitment and activity wither before having any impact – with perhaps a few brave souls pushing on, feeling increasingly unsupported.  There’s a ‘double whammy’ here.  Not only is change endangered by ineffective Champions (not their fault), but influential individuals have experienced first-hand that their organisation cannot be relied on to support its people through change.  Others will watch and draw their own conclusions, even if the Champions say nothing.

Second, we’ve seen a belief that if Champions are in place, nothing else need be done.  At its worst, we’ve seen major disconnects between committed champions and disengaged operational management; business leaders abdicating their responsibility to drive change; and overloaded champions desperately trying to deliver ongoing day-to-day responsibilities and move the change initiative forward.  The results are predictable: burnt-out, disillusioned Champions and change hitting the buffers.  The risk here, too, is a reaction that says Champions don’t work, that it’s all about leaders leading.

The lessons seem obvious, but also seem to need restating.  If people need to be engaged and equipped for a change journey, how much more do those tasked with guiding them on the journey.  And, Champions are simply not an alternative to organisational leaders playing their role – it’s ‘both / and’.

An engaged and well-equipped community of Champions, working in tandem with organisational leadership can be wonderfully powerful.  To deploy ill-equipped and un-supported champions, working in isolation, is to hang some of the organisation’s best people out to dry.

How to get the best out of Internal Communications during business change

During a major business change and transformation there is often a need to bring in expertise and resource capacity from external consultancies to help successfully deliver, manage and embed change.  As an external team, our aim is to quickly form strong alliances with the internal teams, including sponsors, the project and the business.  However, we find over and over again, an untapped team in larger organisations is Internal Communications who can play a critical role in employee engagement activities. Although often involved at some stage of the change lifecycle it’s normally later when their lack of early involvement will prevent the project from getting the true value from this internal resource.  A team who have deep knowledge and insights into the stakeholders, effective channels, the brand and other communications activity taking place.  It seems obvious to get this team involved, the trick is to do this early. Read more

A communications strategy to get your project heard

Three effective ideas that will help your communications strategy get your project heard across a busy change environment.

When we help clients with Communication challenges, it’s often against the backdrop of an already-hectic change environment. In these situations, many projects are competing for attention, and it frequently falls to the project managers to run their own communications strategy – formulating their project messages and getting them out there.

So how can managers make it easy for themselves? We’ve identified three essential steps to develop a comms approach that gets in front of people. Read more