Four Disruptions That Will Change Your Employee and Customer Experience

Trend tracking is an integral business tool that can give companies a leg-up on their competition, help predict areas of growth, and gain insight into the minds of consumers. With 2016 in the rear-view, now is the time to focus on ways to advantageously position your company for success. Here are four disruptions organizations need to prepare for, as they will change employee and customer experiences.

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Tidal Waves Of Change: Political, organizational, and social change have never been more pivotal or closely linked than they are today–causing the line between professional and personal lives to blur. Today, consumers expect the brands they buy from to reflect their values, and they will vote with their wallet to condemn those that don’t. Employees, too, are experiencing the impact of social change within the workplace. Organizations that are strategically prepared to deal with change, both within the industry and the communities where they operate, will be better equipped to navigate tomorrow.

Forget Bloggers – Employees Are The Biggest Influencers: “Employees they know” is ranked #2 for consumers as a trusted resource when making purchasing decisions, which has a direct impact on the customer experience. Yet the majority of companies are not engaging their employees to be social brand ambassadors. Not only is creating compelling messaging and seamless sharing critical to leveraging employees as brand ambassadors, organizations must also focus on creating great places of work and a strong purpose that connects to the customer experience, ensuring that messages ring authentic.

Centralization Is Not Always The Answer: The benefits are clear–it’s efficient, it keeps an organization lean, and ensures a central, uniform experience. It’s also not for everyone. From regional autonomy to full centralization, there is a full range of organizational models in between that may be more realistic or better suited for your business. First up: Get your leaders in the room and identify where you are currently, and where you want to be. The dissonance may surprise you.

Data Is Great But What Do You Do With It?: 3 out of 10 jobs available in America currently involve data mining, reflecting the desire to harness valuable insights buried underneath intimidating volumes of information. Organizations should seek to link customer needs and employee capabilities and experiences by identifying gaps in the service their brand provides, how it’s supported, how customers experience them; and creating actionable strategies to close the divide.

Building Your Change GPS with Data You Already Have

Change has changed: a cliché but it’s true. Organizations are operating more fluidly using informal networks. This new behavior coupled with today’s pace and complexity of change means that companies need a data-driven approach to leading change. To understand this let’s take a look at how change management has evolved.

The Past: Leading Change Like Reading a Compass
Prior to the emergence of change theory in the late 20th Century there was little in the way of best practice. Leaders only knew the broad destination they were headed as most change was implementing tangible technologies and processes. It was like reading a compass: know the direction of travel and use your judgement and instinct to get there.

The Recent: Creating a Map for Change
Change theorists in the 1980s and 1990s suggested a series of approaches that represented an evolutionary step to codify what really works during times of change. This provided best practice techniques based on past evidence of success stories. It helped organizational development specialists create plans, in the same way a map provides the travel routes available from one place to another. This is the period of time when we began to understand that change is often over-managed and under-led, with too much focus on the map and not the destination.

The Now: Building a Change GPS
Today’s organizations challenge these approaches to change. Mainly because what these theories are based on is not immediately evident e.g. who are the real influencers, what are the barriers to change, and that there is often more than one path to success. The complexity of organizations, and the fact that change is now more continuous and volatile, makes planning around these insights exponentially more difficult.

What we need is a GPS for change: an active data-driven approach to predicting obstacles; identifying the best routes to take; and providing ongoing measurement and iteration. Let’s look at a typical change situation to bring this metaphor to life.

Implementing a New Organizational Strategy
New organizational strategies, and growing customer needs and expectations, often require new operating models and organizational capabilities. This places a large degree of change on the current workforce, some of whom may not fit the future state. Traditional change and workforce planning techniques have done a satisfactory job in ensuring business continuity. However, they have not consistently created an engaged and motivated workforce empowered to perform in the future state. This has an adverse impact on employee productivity and, ultimately, business performance.

How a Change GPS Can Help
The insight to prepare the workforce for the future state, and engage and enable them through the change, lies in data most organizations currently have or can easily collect. For example:

  • Employee sentiment towards the organizational culture
  • Leadership capability and style
  • Employee learning styles and motivations
  • Communications effectiveness

Much of this data already exists but it is seldom analyzed for change purposes. By collecting and analyzing this data before and throughout change we can create predictive models that identify many insights and trends. These include identifying:

  • Hidden influencers who can act as champions of the new strategy, using organizational network mapping
  • Predicted reactions to change, using typologies analytics, that will inform how to manage different employee groups
  • Engagement risks, so proactive action can be taken to sustain the engagement of critical employees
  • Change leadership development priorities aligned to the specific roles of leaders during change
  • The actions, from recruitment to learning, that will make sure employees are fully productive in the future state
  • Change adoption risks, identifying barriers to new ways of working and how to overcome them

This approach does not require perfect data, integrated databases, or shiny analytics systems. The “art in the science” is to take practical steps and make decisions on reasonable data that can provide a good degree of confidence. Over time these practical steps can be developed into a systemized ‘change GPS’.

So, how are you using the data you have on your colleagues to be more effective in a liquid change environment?

Liquid Change: How Organizations Can Overcome Change Fatigue

In a not so distant past, change professionals would learn from business leaders that change was cyclical within their organizations (one or two per year), and each cycle had a beginning, middle, and end. In response, we would craft a multi-step, linear plan to help guide clients navigate that transformation – inevitably celebrating its conclusion when the benchmarks established were met. Back then we talked a lot about the need for people in organizations to “embrace change.” And for the most part, they listened.

As time went on we noticed that change within organizations began to accelerate. As a result, existing change management plans would be derailed when another, equally sizable change concurrently hit the company. A second insight began to crystallize: professionals within these companies were getting exhausted and depleted with the ever-increasing pace of change. The idea of embracing change was now met with sheer incredulity and, in some cases, fear.

The evolution of what we call Liquid Change is the culmination of a two decade-long journey of research, countless conversations with colleagues, leaders and clients, and the experience of helping organizations around the world reach their business objectives through change management. And it is with great pleasure that I announce the launch of Ketchum Change’s new Liquid Change Study.

This notion of “change fatigue” was born and confirmed by the results of our study when we learned that 74% of over 500 respondents said that change fatigue exists within their companies; with 39% reporting that it’s highly pervasive.

What’s even more alarming is that the pace of change shows no signs of slowing down. That thought doesn’t energize people – it exhausts them (click to tweet). The old models of finding a clean and logical path through change aren’t working anymore. We need a different way of thinking about change, one that acknowledges that it is a constant, non-linear, and complex reality.

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You need only look at the recent tombstones of some iconic companies to understand that even historically prosperous organizations that fail to embrace change die. And leaders know that their ability to thrive through change is no longer an option. Our study found that 95% of respondents reported that effectively managing change is critical to a business’ success.

We now know that change is truly a state of being, not a series of organizational events. Based on this, we believe successful organizations will develop what we like to refer to as “change muscles.” A set of attributes, which strengthen over time, that enables them to be “liquid” – flexing quickly to capitalize on changes within their culture and marketplace. Based on our collective experience helping organizations lead and thrive through change, we identified, tested and confirmed through our study’s findings, the four characteristics that make up a liquid organization.

1. They are transparent, and leaders within them communicate in a human way

2. They are pioneering, and encourage taking risks to stay ahead of the market

3. They are deeply dialed-in with customers, consumers and employees, and listen carefully to them

4. They are agile and flexible, and can turn on a dime to capitalize on opportunities

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Click on the above image to download our Liquid Change infographic!

We now have quantitative verification that focusing on these areas of change really does work, and that building change muscles will diminish change fatigue and facilitate better business outcomes. More importantly, having engaged in dialogue with a multitude of leaders to talk about the idea of Liquid Change and to co-create the topic with us, we know the idea resonates, and gets them energized and optimistic about change again.

‘Feel the fear’ – authentic leadership in times of change

The UK election highlighted that being seen as an effective leader is a key factor for success. The search is now on for opposition parties to elect new leaders to change their parties’ fortunes.

Over the past three years, there has been a decline in people’s view of leaders. In 2014, just 22% of respondents in Ketchum’s Leadership Communication Monitor said leaders are demonstrating effective leadership, down from 25% in 2013.

Amplifying this issue, a recent Harvard Business Review study ranks strong executive leadership as one of the top three factors for business success.

So what makes for an effective leader in times of change?

Research by the Institute of Employment Studies shows authentic leadership as the most effective route to inspire followership and action.

Authentic leaders always portray a version of their ‘real self’. In doing so, they inspire loyalty amongst their staff who want a leader who is genuine, transparent and trustworthy.

This isn’t easy. As humans, we possess many beliefs about the world and ourselves; and when we face major decisions these beliefs can clash. This results in a psychological state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. The experience of dissonance is unpleasant, because we feel conflicted and torn between the choices we face. The natural reaction is to attempt to reduce or eliminate this conflict, and achieve consonance (i.e. self-agreement and conviction).

Leaders are no exception. When a leader adapts his or her attitude or behaviour to reduce cognitive dissonance, employees can interpret this as inauthenticity which can damage trust.

In effect, great leaders accept cognitive dissonance and ‘feel the fear’.

So how can we learn to ‘feel the fear’? Daggerwing works with leaders to unpick uncomfortable truths allowing them to:

  • Understand that they can choose to act differently, and this new behaviour can in turn modify their attitude
  • Recognise the moments or events that trigger them where dissonance is at play and break to cycle

By proactively managing their attitude and ability to lead change authentically, leaders are able to bring others through change successfully.

The new opposition party leaders will face many challenges ahead. If they can learn to ‘feel the fear’ and be authentic in their actions, they are more likely to succeed in gaining both their colleagues’ and the public’s followership and trust.

The Best Weapons in the Battle for World-Class Talent and Ideas

Creativity and innovation are topics that seem to be almost inescapable. A Google search on the topics returns 131 million results, and Amazon lists nearly 16,000 books on the combined topic. But why are they so omnipresent? Because the battle for world-class talent and break through ideas in today’s low-growth, highly-disruptive world is fiercer than ever. To combat this, companies must have a culture and organizational architecture that promotes creativity and innovation as they seek to gain and maintain competitive advantage.

So where to begin?

First, know and evaluate the four primary areas that inhibit or promote great creativity and innovation:

1. A company’s enabling and support of operational process.

2. Culture and leadership

3. The physical and digital environment

4. Assumptions and beliefs of employees and the organization

An honest assessment of how you’re performing in these areas, and how they work in concert, is vital to creating the conditions necessary for innovative success. As part of this assessment, there is one fundamental question that each leader, team and organization needs to ask themselves in today’s environment – are you able to change as fast as the world around you? If your answer isn’t a definitive “yes,” then you have an opportunity to unlock and unleash tremendous value by dismantling these barriers that keep innovation from flourishing.

We at Ketchum Change know that “Liquid companies that are able to foster innovation and adapt quickly to both opportunities and challenges possess four key traits:

1. Agile: Being driven by passion and desire to seize opportunities in real-time is part of their core values and DNA. It’s how they attract, hire and develop talent and orient their organization to seize advantages, instead of being afraid of risk, change and challenges.

2. Dialed-In: They use progressive approaches to create strong connections with internal and external stakeholders, embrace proactive listening, and foster co-creation.

3. Transparent: They communicate with clarity, timeliness and authenticity across borders and organizational levels.

4. Pioneering: They promote and create systems and incentives to provoke curiosity and support risk-taking to innovate.

To become “Liquid,” here are a few ideas to set conditions for success in your organization:

1. Stay connected with employees

2. Create a direct line of communication between leaders and employees

3. Be transparent by breaking down (or even destroying!) organizational barriers

4. Give employees context… and the ability to spark ideas

5. Lead by example by driving creativity and innovation in your own space

And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have any questions or thoughts about how to bolster creativity and innovation in your organization.

Liquid Change in Latin America: BRICS, Mortars and Frontiers

We recently had the pleasure of meeting with friends and colleagues at our offices in Argentina and Brazil. While on my trip, by way of some great opportunities arranged by our gracious hosts, we had the opportunity to take a closer look at the communications and change management landscape of the region.

The world has turned its eyes towards Latin America, and for good reason. With rich histories, abundant resources and dynamic economies, it’s now a pivotal time for businesses to maximize their growth in the region if they hope to adapt to the pace and nuances of each market.

Here are a few of my observations on communication opportunities that exist in this space, particularly in areas that are experiencing more rapid change than their European and US counterparts.

1. Reaching the Next Stage of Maturity
Argentina’s Frontier economy and Brazil’s BRIC economy are both experiencing shifts that are modernizing the landscape of the markets. As industries continue to grow, change management and highly effective internal communications are particularly important to businesses focusing on how they operate, allocate resources and achieve new stages of growth.

2. Setting a High Bar
With a large number of multinational businesses in both Brazil and Argentina, it’s clear that there are tremendous advantages for global organizations to continue building a presence by investing in advanced workforce and talent infrastructures that support and attract the best people. As the products, brands and reputations of these businesses rapidly evolve from local to global, organizations must maintain local expertise and agile communications while bolstering their talent capabilities.

3. Scaling Excellence
Brazil is home to 75 unique cultures and a geographic footprint larger than India. With such a large and diverse landscape, companies have a unique opportunity to tap into enormous employee enthusiasm and regional pride, creating dynamic cultures that drive productivity, growth and consumer confidence. The first step should be to actively shape a high-performance culture by harnessing the potential of sophisticated internal communications and compelling employee value propositions (EVP). Look to develop a system that instinctively reacts to market changes, rewards innovative thinking and is dialed-in to the local environment.

4. Break Through with Creativity and Innovation
As businesses navigate fluctuating economies, regulatory environments and political parties, it’s more important than ever to harness employees’ creativity and innovation. Creating a work environment that rewards new ideas and breaks down traditional hierarchies and siloes, so brilliant ideas from anywhere can be turned into innovative actions and products, will help businesses develop a clear advantage.

As companies both big and small look to cultivate future-proof organizations in this exciting region, they will need to deftly handle the unique challenges within each market. It’s clear that for local organizations, having a strong internal communications foundation built into their rapid expansion plans will help them compete within the global landscape, while global brands can benefit from a change system that helps them become more nimble and tap into the nuances and unique challenges in each market. For both, having ‘Liquid Change’ organizations will be crucial as the world’s attention is increasingly drawn toward Latin America.