7 Communications Steps to Making Your Organizational Change a SUCCESS!

Communications is the key to the success of any organizational transformation or change.

Time For Change

This week I was interviewed as a communications expert to be part of a university’s upcoming interactive textbook on business.

Students will read a variety of case studies, answer a quiz about how they would theoretically handle the described situations and then watch a video from an expert who gives their take on what the realities are.

I’ll keep you posted when the book comes out . Until then, here’s a sneak peek on how I explained the importance of a putting an input-gathering communications and messaging plan in place before any organizational change is announced or implemented.

Change communication is a whole area of study in of itself.  If you don't have time for that, here are some quick and important considerations to bear in mind!

1. The communications plan is the foundation of any change.

If the foundation isn’t laid properly, the whole change campaign will collapse.  This results in extra, unplanned and not-budgeted time and resources that will have to be dumped into the change project – to try to rebuild the foundation.  The change outcomes will likely never be as strong as they could have if the plan had been executied right the first time.

And yet, communications strategies are too often overlooked. Executives may think successful change rests on the simple merits of the change itself. But that’s wrong. Information alone is not enough to convince and persuade employees that the change is in their best interest.

2. The number one thing is to allocate the proper time.

Your “transformation lag,” as some businesses call it, is at least an 18-month process before the “official announcement.”  The trouble occurs when the change announcement is made first and then the buy-in is attempted.  Successful change happens in the opposite order.

3. Developing the proper messages around your change idea is critical.

This should never be done in a vacuum.  The person or small confidential team that develops the change idea – MUST spend time writing out the benefits and positive reasons behind this effort – and prepare for EVERY possible objection AND then craft positive responses to them.

But that’s not enough – the messages must be tested… 

4. So, identifying stakeholders – in tiers – is next and this requires the most delicacy and protocol.

You’re essentially building a political outreach campaign. What’s the number that you need to win?  Different than elections, you’re going to strive for more than 51 percent for your victory. You want to get as many people on board – before you make the official announcement.  This all must be done in the proper order.  Think of concentric circles.  Protocol is key here. You must be careful NOT to offend anyone in this process.

Your first tier of stakeholders is what we call in campaigning, the "Influencers." Like the name implies, they have to have a lot of clout and influence among identified next tier stakeholder groups.

Depending on the type of change – you can also consider influencers who are  “Third party advocates.” Here, think of a major vendor or client or board member who may not be part of your organization ,per se, but who is respected, well-known and influential anyway.

Test your messages with this group and gather intel and responses from them. Incorporate their feedback.

5. Stakeholder fan out.

Next come the other tiers as dictated by their levels of influence and respect, size, etc.  You’re doing all this in the “message testing” phase –and while you’re doing that, you’re gathering their input, showing them you value them, and re-calibrating your message if you need to. And! getting all important pre-roll-out buy–in!

The goal here is that by the time you roll out whatever your change is, you have critical mass of stakeholder buy-in – you have vetted your message and benefits, objections properly – that you will have success.

6. Campaign roll-out rewards.

Your change campaign doesn’t end there – you can’t make the announcement and walk away. You should also have a calendar of milestone small reward moments built in.  Incentives to encourage implementation.   This is the test drive area.

7. Over time, you can institutionalize the change.

Be ready with the frame work for writing the change into manuals, handbooks, whatever.. but this comes after success in the previous steps.

For Change Communications to be successful, you must devise a two-way street.  Getting stakeholder buy-in on message and benefits early, BEFORE announcement and implementation may seem like a lot of work, but it will dramatically increase your rate of success – and that saves time and money!

I’m so grateful that you are reading my essays. I write inspirationally about better communications, business and life empowerment. If you would like to read regularly, please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and feel free to also connect at LinkedIn, via Twitter, Facebook and at GinaLondon.com

Copyright Gina London 2015. All Rights Reserved. 


Remembering Arezzo

My Italian loving and blogging friend "Panini Girl" dedicated her post today to me as she spotlighted a Tuscan town we both adore: Arezzo. I share her blog and wonderful photos with you while I thank her for the dedication and thank Arezzo for welcoming us so warmly while Scotty, Lulu and I lived there. Grazie e baci!


Five Birthday Wishes for YOU!

Okay, this photo is from Lulu's birthday - not mine - I don't think I have photos of recent birthday parties.. I'll have to fix that!
Okay, this photo is from Lulu's birthday - not mine - I don't think I have photos of recent birthday parties.. I'll have to fix that!

On Saturday, I will mark another year of adventure on this planet.  And from the pages of my “I wish I would’ve known then what I know now,” book,  I am going to blow out the candles on my cake making wishes – not for me – but for you!

These wishes express my current attitude toward life.  They are not traits I was born with. They are some of the approaches to life I have chosen to develop over the years.

Life is full of choices.  How you act and react in your professional and personal life is truly up to you.

I share my wishes now. I wish for you to:

1. Be curious. Don’t breeze through your day narrowly focused on only the tasks at hand.  Take a moment to explore and wonder about other people and places and current events. This is not the simple “be informed” approach, it’s a way to make yourself probe further. It’s training yourself to ask the why about things. Nurturing curiosity is a great way to engage. In your community. In your profession. In your friendships.  And that brings me to number two.

 2. Ask follow-up questions.   How often during a conversation, are we waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can offer the “Yeah, that same thing happened to me only better” story?  Instead of responding to a potential client’s or customer’s story with your own, ask a follow-up question.   “What happened next?”  “How did that make you feel?”  “What is going to be done?” I learned this during my interview days as a correspondent for CNN, but it also has so many practical applications.  Asking a follow-up question not only can provide you with helpful  and interesting information, it also tells the person you really care to hear more from them.  People like to talk about their experiences. Listen to them.

3. Be kind, first. Don’t wait for the other person to make the first move. Offer a “good morning” to a stranger tomorrow as you walk to your office.  Ask the barista how her day is going, and mean it.  Take two minutes to chat with your client or prospect about the weather or their family or their health.  Many people  I find that most, not all, people will respond to kindness – in kind.

 4. Deploy the power of the smile. Connected to number three is this wish:  A lot.  Even if you’re upset, nervous or angry. Your brain is wired to be constantly scanning for your smile muscles to engage. Research shows that even if you fake a broad smile, your endorphins will kick in and you’ll feel better.  I love this one.

 5. Be bold. Sometimes if you think too much, you’ll psych yourself right out of an opportunity.  Submit a “Call to Papers” blindly for a conference you found on Google.  Call the publisher of a newspaper whom you have never met and ask for a seat on that VIP rodeo train trip. Each of these I have done. (That executive I reached out to on-line is now a client.  I will be speaking in June at the 16th International Conference on Human Resources. And the publisher who just happened to pick up the phone at 4pm on a Friday because his secretary was gone for the day - was so blown away that I called him directly – he put me right on that trip and I made many wonderful connections that day.)

A friend told me today, “only fools follow rules.” So, while you may feel foolish about daring to toss a tweet to someone you wish to engage, Give it a go. Be respectful but get creative.  It won’t always work, but it certainly won’t if you don’t try.  And just think how foolish you’ll feel  wondering what might have been.

These may not be the secrets to the universe, but  I sincerely wish you for to experience first-hand  the little life-changers behind these wishes. Speaking of secrets, I also hope that the notion that of, “if you tell someone your wish, it won’t come true,” is just a myth!

So, catch these wishes, take hold and turn them into action and a lifestyle. Let me know which ones resonate with you and what others you have adapted into your own lives.

Happy birthday to me - and you!
Happy birthday to me - and you!

Every day is a chance for a fresh start. Happy birthday!

Copyright 2015 Gina London.  All Rights Reserved.


Writing to Engage – Some Simple Strategies!

When I interviewed master crime-writer Elmore Leonard years ago, he gave this advice to would-be writers, "If you want to write well, write a lot. Something might even work out."

writers-block

Okay, practice makes perfect, maybe.   And while you're out there practicing, it's nice to have some  general guidelines to help speed up the process.

So, as a former print journalist and veteran CNN correspondent who has written thousands of stories, here are some of the strategies I share with my executive clients - many of whom are working to enhance their professional profiles by creating a body of written work for on-line and mainstream publications.

  1. HEADLINES - Make your headline as compelling as you can!

Think short and catchy.  You may write one headline at the beginning of your article and then find you can re-write it more simply and “grabby” after you are finished – like a quick wrap-up.  In journalism, for example, editors, not reporters, write an article’s headlines. It’s a distinct skill.

a. Pique your readers’ curiosity–Writing a headline that makes readers curious to learn more and turn to you for answers or insight is a great way to build an audience.

b. Link your cause to a celebrity or a news item- Obviously, you don’t have to always link your relevance to someone who is more famous than you (as I shamelessly did by putting Kim Kardashian in my headline about headline writing). In one week alone I saw more than a dozen writers referencing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s choice to wear the same clothes every day as a launching point for their own observations.  In campaigning, we call this finding a solid “third party advocate” – someone who supports your message and is highly visible.  In the same vein, linking your point to a current hot news event or topic is common sense – but too often a missed opportunity.

c. Be emotional and/or fun – Most of us will welcome a quick read if it appeals to us emotionally. Research shows people make decisions first from their subconscious, which is where emotion resides, and then back that up with their conscious mind with rational logic and reasoning.

 2. LEAD (or LEDE) PARAGRAPH – You grabbed them with your headline now really grab them in your lead. You’ll want to spend as much time on formulating your opening paragraph as you do your headline.  There is no single right way to do this. Here are a few ideas:

a. Teaser - This can be as simple as a quick “teaser” introduction, in which you essentially tell your reader here’s what you’re going to get and why it’s important in a couple of sentences – and then the rest of your article fills in the details.

b. Provocative question - Or you can lead with a provocative question that asks your reader to imagine a scenario or something that makes them sit up and want to read more.

c. Startling fact – Hit your readers with the gotcha fact – like how the UK is surprisingly  lagging behind other counties in digital training – or what the shocking future statistics for digital security risk may be if processes aren’t changed. Then fill in with the “what can we do about it.”

 3. PERSONAL ANECDOTE or STORY

You should already understand the idea of adding in a personal story.  Try to make your descriptions as vivid as possible. The key to any story, however, is to relate it back to the point you are making so there’s an applicable take-away for your reader.  Don’t make your reader infer.  Spell it out for them.

  1. NUMBERED LlSTS

If you have three main points, don’t just state them in your narrative. Make them stand out by creating a bulleted list.  This helps your reader find their take-aways easily. You can then even put that back into your headline. “My top three tips for X” ….

  1. LESS IS MORE

Just as with an oral presentation, most essays or articles are best written if they don’t get put the audience to sleep with too much information. If your essay is very  dense, consider breaking it up into two or even three entries.  Imagine you are writing a book, and think about where your chapters would come. One main point per chapter works best.  Tease your audience in a final graph that you are going to write more  - keep them interested.

  1. SIMPLIFY

Are there implications or lessons to be learned from your article that will appeal to more than your immediate professional colleagues? If you want to broaden your audience, steer clear from using too much industry jargon.  Imagine you are writing to a family friend or a dear aunt. Make it interesting for them and it can still have the same appeal for your intended audience.

  1. CREATE A SENSE of URGENCY

Is there reason why someone should pay attention to your article?  What might happen if someone does not follow or consider your point?  What will happen if the status quo continues in a particular line of business? This does not mean a false sense of urgency, but if there is a poignant reason for your audience to pay attention, tell them!

  1. CHUNK WRITING

I don’t always write “linearly” – if I know I want to include a particular point in the middle of my story, I may craft that paragraph as a stand-alone right away and come back to it later.  Or while I’m thinking of a topic, I may think of a perfect “wrap” or “go-home” line and write it down before I forget and before I write anything else.  I may think of a compelling lede line only after I have written everything else.  Imagine the paragraphs of your essay as shells in the “shell game.” When you re-read your finished product, you might move one graph above another if they seem to support each other in a better order.  Play with your structure. It’s your creation. You are an artist creating for an audience.

 Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved. 


Happy Easter – and There are no small parts…

I have a confession:  When my seven-year-old told me she had been given the non-speaking bit role of “Forest Dancer” in her school’s Easter festival play, my first inclination was to angrily protest.

Rockboro Primary  Easter Festival Play. School, Cork, Ireland.
Rockboro Primary Easter Festival Play. School, Cork, Ireland.

(Note! This is NOT merely the musings of a mother on her young daughter’s first school play, there is also a lovely lesson for business and life here, I promise.)

I imagined walking up to her first-grade teacher saying something like:  “What?! MY daughter deserves MORE than a puny role as ‘tree fairy who protects the princess’ which was clearly made up just to give every kid a part. Lulu should have been the princess herself, or at least a character with one line of dialogue! How dare you!”

Of course, I said nothing to the teacher. To my daughter, I smiled down said something supportive about how she was sure to be a great “Forest Dancer.” Still, inwardly, I worried about her sure-to-be-damaged tender self-esteem.

But, my daughter wasn’t upset about her small role at all.   She was actually excited about being a “Forest Dancer.”

“I am creating my own dance moves to guard the princess,” she happily told me one evening.

She applied twirls and flourishes she had learned in her after-school ballet lessons. Then she studied her face in the mirror and announced she would like to wear her hair swept into an up-do complete with a ring of flowers.  We shopped for an appropriate “tree dancer” outfit and came up with a leafy dress the teachers liked so much they urged Lulu’s “tree dancer” partner to buy a matching outfit just like it.

When the day of the Easter festival arrived, amid tables of hot cross buns, pastel-colored cupcakes and walls plastered with hundreds of pictures of bunnies and chicks, my little daughter proudly took to the stage.

Her little ballet moves were adorable and for a moment I thought of the background dancer in a recent production of The Nutcracker who hilariously upstaged the featured performers.

Lulu, aka, "Forest Dancer," guarding the princess.
Lulu, aka, "Forest Dancer," guarding the princess.

Lulu didn’t go that far.  She simply brought to the performance all that she could.  She wasn’t envious of the girl who did play the role of the princess. She had a great attitude. She was encouraging and encouraged in return.

I was the one who needed to have my attitude checked.  When we’re offered something we may consider “beneath” us, how do we react? With frustration? Anger? Are we indignant or are we gracious?

The way Lulu handled herself, reminded me of the Stanislavski quote that:

 There are no small parts, only small actors.

So, no matter whether in an Easter festival play or in business or in life, remember all the world’s a stage. Give every role your best.

Fun and friends after the play!
Fun and friends after the play!

And Happy Easter!

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.