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10 Crucial Questions That Make Or Break Business Changes

Change is a tricky concept in business and regardless of the size of your organisation it needs to be handled with care. Key to a successful transformation is the ability to paint a picture of what will happen and why.

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Change is a tricky concept in business and regardless of the size of your organisation it needs to be handled with care. Key to a successful transformation is the ability to paint a picture of what will happen and why.

Guides

10 Crucial Questions That Make Or Break Business Changes

Change is a tricky concept in business and regardless of the size of your organisation it needs to be handled with care. Key to a successful transformation is the ability to paint a picture of what will happen and why.

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In every industry, change is accelerating. In the wake of the financial crisis and a slew of reputation scandals, bankers are having to change the way that they make all their decisions, thinking not of profits, but people.

At the same time, nimble startups are starting to compete with the high street giants. In the world of retail, Lidl and Aldi are challenging the long-established supermarkets to appeal to a new kind of savvy shopper. For the hospitality industry, no stone remains unturned thanks to the power of online reviews. And that is to name but a few.

If leaders fail to keep up with this pace of change, they will fall behind. At The Storytellers, we’ve had the privilege of advising leaders from over 160 major global organisations. From this, we’ve been able to recognise the ten top patterns that explain why change can be such a struggle – and develop our own Blueprint for Change to help solve this.

1.    Why are we making changes?

Senior leaders can spend hours strategising to get the most out of a change, but this will all be lost in translation to the wider team if the context is not explained clearly. Developing a detailed plan and maintaining a strong conviction behind the necessity of the change is all well and good, but failing to convey the rationale behind its necessity will only lead to confusion.

To implement a change, it needs to be communicated in full, rather than relying on a raft of disjointed initiatives. Without a deep understanding behind the impetus for change, employees across the business can lack motivation, a sense of urgency, or just be left puzzled over what’s really going on.

Research from McKinsey finds that transformations with a compelling change story are up to four times more likely to succeed. Leaders that understand the requirement of setting the change within a clear and compelling story aid employees in understanding why it is happening, what it means, and how this affects the business.

2.    How is this relevant to me?

As well as setting the context, employees need clarity over what changes really mean in practice. It’s not enough to communicate a clear and compelling vision for change: people need to understand why this matters to them as an individual. Management teams will often try to define a change as a quantifiable concept. Rather than putting facts and figures to the company as a whole, tell a wider story that is granular, practical and actionable.

"Successful change comes from giving employees a meaningful role in a transformation"

The main message of a transformation should be articulated clearly and simply, and in a compelling way using real-life examples and anecdotes that encourage the team to engage with a change.

3.    Why should I care?

While there is an undoubted necessity to explore the top-line facts and figures behind a change strategy, leaders can get stuck in a cycle of perpetual analysis. There will always be more data to explore, but leaders need to bite the bullet and jump into a revolution. We’re hardwired to fear change, so creating an emotional connection across the entire company involves telling an authentic and emotionally intelligent story.

To build trust and confidence within the team, change agents need to connect people’s day-to-day work with the wider goals of the business, and then demonstrate the impact for the end user. Stories play a powerful role in making this connection. It’s easy to underestimate the role of emotional connection in business: whether it’s internally or to the wider world, human interaction is a necessity to understand what really makes us tick.

4.    Who’s leading this?

Leading change can be a difficult and thankless task. The continuing consolidation and complexity within big business has led to complex management structures. Leaders who insert some humanity into a multifaceted environment exert huge power and influence over their people. Middle managers are often the driving forces behind base level change, and they need to be reassured that they are supported from the very top.

One consolidated story known and accepted by every member of the management team can help bypass the fear of change that arises from a confused message. Navigating through change necessitates a single guiding light, and a consistent set of leadership behaviours.

5.    What should my contribution be?

At The Storytellers, we refer to a lack of active engagement as “the hero or victim principle”. Successful change comes from giving employees a meaningful role in a transformation, recognising their contributions, and helping them to realise that they have an integral role to play rather than bystanders who have to learn to adapt.

By involving them in generating ideas for how a change should be implemented, the entire business will feel actively engaged, empowered and ready to change. Organic buy-in is crucial for employees from the boardroom to the shop floor, and everyone should feel able to write a page in the company story.

6.    Why should I believe you?

In a time of change, it can be difficult to convince the team that it’s really coming. Being told that there is a gap between where the business sits and where it needs to be can concern employees, and make them less likely to believe in it ever happening.

Consistent communication of successes as and when they occur give people a reason to believe that change can happen. Honest communication about the challenges ahead, as well as making transparent the road to achieve this, helps to build credibility. For people to believe in a change, it needs to be rooted in reality, rather than released as a trickle truth.

7.    Can you clear the way?

Another reason change can fail, is that the path has not been cleared for it to begin. Whether this is through aging IT systems or ingrained cultural practices, employees are often forced down change pathways that are riddled with potholes and roadblocks.

discussion plane

Involve people in the change process and make sure the way ahead is clear of roadblocks

For a change to succeed, managers need to ensure the road ahead is clear and free of obstacles. Speaking to those that will be embarking on the journey determines which challenges might be there to trip people up, and helps ready a detour before changes get lost.

8.    How can we keep going?

One of the most frustrating ways that changes fail is a lack of momentum. Often there is a lot of enthusiasm for a business transformation by the dedicated group of early pioneers, but as it extends to the whole business, it fails to make a widespread impact.

Without a mechanism to drive forward a change, people will always gravitate back towards “the way most people do things around here” – believing that the change is impossible.

When telling the story of change, strong communicators present change as an iterative, evolutionary process, rather than an overnight transformation. Celebrating each success along the way ensures employees never feel that a change is losing momentum, and thus continually work towards the end goal with enthusiasm.

9.    Won’t this change again soon?

A lack of consistency around business transformations only seeks to discourage employees from giving it their all. Those that are disconnected from the day-to-day of head office can think their time is spent dreaming up new initiatives, launching them, and moving onto the next one without following through.

Leaders who instigate changes, but don’t sustain these initiatives are setting themselves up to fail. But, a trailblazer who’ll stand up again and again to reengage their people on the journey will be the one who achieves the transformations – both in the business, and in attitudes across the company.

10. Where can I fit in?

Whilst a good storyteller clearly and consistently communicates, has a strong focus on adopting new ways of working, and engages the wider business, sometimes a change fails merely because it has been overshadowed. Successful change efforts need to tie everything back to the overall journey –not just to the change currently in motion.

Leaders must be ready to say “no” to activities that don’t support the journey. An overarching corporate narrative should have a relevant and flexible framework for these conversations, helping to integrate everything into the wider journey.

Keeping all activity aligned ensures everyone is moving in the right direction – so make sure to celebrate every resulting achievement. Too many new business processes collapse as they are not allowed to reach their full potential, and it’s up to leaders to tell the story that enables change.

Alison Esse is Co-founder and Joint Managing Director of change consultancy The Storytellers

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10 Crucial Questions That Make Or Break Business Changes

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