A Clear Vision for Change
Many change initiatives fail. When they do fail in addition to the change initiative not delivering on its objectives there is often the loss of credibility for those involved and a general increase in scepticism about the ability of the organisation to change.
In change initiatives failure happens for many and usually multiple reasons and while failure can occur anywhere in the change process the seeds of failure are often sown early on with the failure to articulate a clear vision for change and to communicate that vision to the organisation.
In this post we will examine the importance of creating and communicating a clear vision for change and provide some advice on how to achieve this.
Establishing a Clear Vision for Change
If you want to implement change you need to create a clear vision for change. If you cannot clearly articulate what the change will look like and why the organisation (and the people in it) should support the change then you will struggle to implement change. In many cases organisations develop a vague high-level vision and expect that everyone will row in behind that. In other cases, they believe that because the CEO is bought into the change that everyone else will follow.
A well-crafted vision for change allows people to picture what the organisation will look like after the change. It should paint a picture of what success will look like with enough information and direction so that everyone can make decisions without seeking permission at every step.
A good change vision allows people to understand the rationale for the change i.e. it helps them to answer the question “Why are we doing this?” It should have both intellectual and emotional appeal.
An Effective Change Vision
The key to a change vision is that it is easy for people to understand. John Kotter lists the following six things that make a change vision effective.
- It is bold but achievable
- It paints a vivid picture of the future
- It appeals to employees’ hearts (and minds)
- It is specific enough to help individuals make decisions and trade-offs
- It is flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions
- It is easy to communicate quickly—in 60 seconds
The change vision is a picture of what the organisation will look like after change has been made. Knowing what success looks like will help the whole team work effectively towards it. It should show people the opportunities they can take advantage of as part of the change. It should motivate people, and a clear change vision is essential to any successful change.
Tips for Creating a Change Vision
If you are creating a change vision do the following:
- Take time to create the vision. It is much better to get this right at the start than to have to come back and articulate it halfway through the change initiative because you are not getting traction.
- Think about who creates the change vision. The vision does not have to be created just in the Board Room. Involving people in the creation of the vision helps build support for change.
- Use Kotter’s six criteria above to test your vision. Ask people in your organisation (not just Senior Executives) if they feel the vision is clear. Ask them if it makes sense to them.
Communicating the Change Vision
The art of communication is to get the right message to the right people at the right time. When we are communicating a change vision our goal is to ensure that people are clear on what the change is, what success will look like and why we are changing. The language used should be simple.
The change vision should be clear from the start but not just at the start and in many change initiatives the initial fanfare at the launch of the project gives way to irregular and unstructured communications over time.
Understanding the Change Population
The first thing you need to understand is to whom you need to communicate your change vision. To do this we need to define what Kotter calls the “change population” this is everyone who is affected not just the core group but everyone who needs to change his or her behaviour. To understand this, you should ask the following questions:
- Who needs to buy into it?
- Who must embrace it for the change to be successful?
In many large organisations there are multiple stakeholders with different needs and interests. Understanding the stakeholder landscape is a good starting point when planning communications. A stakeholder analysis that defines who the stakeholders are, what messages you want to deliver to them, when you want to deliver those messages and how to best communicate your messages is a good starting point here.
Use Multiple Communications Channels
We recommend the use of a combination of channels for communicating (e.g. town hall meetings, briefings, email updates, social media, newsletters etc.) to ensure that the vision is being communicated early, consistently and relentlessly. The vision should be incorporated into all our communications and it should be highly visible. It should be referred to at every available opportunity and reinforced in meetings and conversations.
“For everyone to truly embrace the vision they need to hear it over and over—every day. Don’t be afraid to be a broken record. ” John Kotter
Behave in a way that’s consistent with the Vision
Nothing undermines a change initiative more than key players behaving in a manner that is not consistent with the vision or with the organisation’s values. Where this happens and it is not challenged support for change is lost. It is also important to ensure that all communications (emails, speeches, conversations), decisions, and behaviours are consistent with what we are asking people to change.
Effective communications builds support for change. That support can be built and encouraged when you do the following:
- Develop a clear vision for change.
- Communicate that vision clearly, consistently and often.
- Carefully define the stakeholders and ensure we effectively communicate with them.
- Use multiple channels for communications.
- Address behaviours that are not consistent with the change vision.
If you have a change initiative and would like to discuss how Clarion can support you, get in touch with the author. We’d be happy to chat!