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Follow the Leader

By 19th February 2016October 11th, 2023No Comments

In our last two insights, we explored the concept that while ‘Old Habits Die Hard’, those habits can start to change once we understand the impact to us personally, described as ‘What’s in it for me?’, and the context of the change.

Our direct manager is the person most qualified to help us establish ‘What’s in it for me?’. They understand our day to day role and can therefore translate the impact and benefits it will deliver to us personally.

Before that, we need to be aware of the reasons behind any proposed changes to our work. We know from observing young children that understanding ‘why’ something is so is a fundamental human need and it’s not one we grow out of. In the workplace, the person we want to tell us ‘why’ is our most senior leader. They are qualified to relate the change to organisational strategy and direction.

In a 2011 study by Prosci, the change management research organisation, an active and visible executive sponsor was cited as the most critical factor to project success.

Imagine a change programme sponsored by the Managing Director of your organisation. Your MD presents the context of the change to build awareness and states that everyone must give full support to the project.

Then they miss a town hall session due to a client meeting. The rest of the board take their cue from this; the Finance Director misses the next town hall as to meet with an auditor, the Marketing Director has a major product launch and so on.

In the next round of workshops, sales fail to attend (they all have meetings with clients), and the finance team excuse themselves due to month-end.

This precedent then flows through the organisation, until no-one attaches any importance to the project. The project starts faltering, the change or technology isn’t adopted, and the company fails to achieve the productivity gains or cost savings it planned.

Three things that good leaders can do to ensure change happens:

Be visible throughout the project lifecycle, not just during the exciting bits. Great leaders don’t delegate their sponsor duties – they are the sponsor because of the authority they hold and they recognize that people want to hear from them. They must use their influence to remove blockers and to build support among key stakeholder groups and the board.

Be the model for change. We see a huge difference in the success of those projects where the executive sponsor is an early adopter of the technology. Because they are using the technology, they are equipped to build excitement and enthusiasm for the project – they are credible and authentic. A sponsor who still uses their desk phone while sponsoring a Skype for Business telephony rollout is not going to cut the mustard.

A real example which almost comically demonstrates our point, is the co-relation between a customer CEO calling a Skype meeting with his senior leadership team, and their sudden and urgent interest in Skype training.

Communicate effectively. The communication element of a technology change programme should be treated in the same way you would treat a marketing campaign. Putting an announcement on an intranet and hoping people will stumble across it is futile. As far back as 1885, Thomas Smith, regarded by many as the godfather of modern advertising, wrote a guide called Successful Advertising.  He asserted that consumers don’t even see an advertisement until the 5th time they come into contact with it and when we have seen it, and we don’t take action until the 20th time!  No wonder advertisers use every channel available to reach us from billboards, TV, online re-targeting through to public transport!  This approach is known in their industry as “effective frequency”.

One of the deliverables for the Discovery element of any change programme is to identify every channel of communication available and evaluate its impact.  From here we can establish how frequently, and through which channels we need to reach employees to be effective.  if the existing ones don’t allow a direct channel between the sponsor and employees, create one. The communications plan should detail what the sponsor says and when, ensuring that each communication is aligned to the deployment. The plan must answer the “Why” question from a cognitive, emotional and practical perspective; reaching the head, the heart and the feet.

  • Head: FACTS – Why is the change happening? When is it happening? What are the benefits? What might the challenges be?
  • Heart: FEELINGS – Empathise with how people might feel. Share success stories from pilot users. What should be their motivation for making the change? How have their colleagues been involved to date? Make it personal, involve people.
  • Feet: ACTIONS – What are the next steps? How does someone find out more? What is expected of them? How can people get involved? Where can they access support? Who do they contact if they have any questions?

So, a sponsor needs to support the change by giving consistent attention to it, championing it, and communicating effectively and regularly.

 Is your sponsor meeting the brief?


 If you would like to find out more about supporting your change programme with the right communications plan, drop me a line.

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