From time to time, organizations face drastic challenges, whether they have to struggle to stay afloat or suddenly have more demand than they can manage comfortably. But even after any particular crisis runs its course, businesses will continue to face new strategic and operational problems in addition to whatever old problems they confronted every day.
Katie Martell is an “unapologetic marketing truth-teller,” marketing consultant, and the author and producer of the book and documentary, Pandermonium. She has an activist’s perspective on how to effect thoughtful, productive, lasting change. If you’ve been trying to implement change in your group and are not seeing the progress you’d hoped for, these six stages based on Martell’s framework will help you gain more traction whether you’re working on a reorganization, a drastic change in business processes, or a new product introduction.
Uncover the real problem, not just the troublesome events and pain points that feel like the problem. It’s hard to move people and events toward an optimal future state until you can uncover and dislodge whatever underlying premise has been keeping your people or processes stuck. For example, one of my clients went through a period of significant conflict because a new vice president kept delivering sub-standard results that affected other departments. Once it became clear that his non-delivery was not due to disrespect or carelessness but resulted from a lack of understanding of the fundamentals of the business, there was an opportunity to reset. When you can point to this big truth, people experience the kind of “aha moments” that elicit true engagement, as when a team member says, “Oh I didn’t realize that. I should do something about this.” Access to the big truth helps move everything forward, because as Martell suggests, “when they fully understand the issue, they’ll understand their role within it.”
Make sure that you and your allies are all fighting on the same side. You can’t create much change alone; you need a critical mass of people who agree with and want to participate in what you’re trying to do. From a marketing perspective, it’s crucial to show your customers that you’re in their corner, working with them to resolve or eliminate the real problem they’re experiencing. And if you are leading a team, you have to structure your communications to galvanize people around it as if you were developing talking points for canvassing or a grassroots campaign, where everyone has a unified vision and a consistent message.
Provide allies and team members with doable action steps. According to Martell, “You have to do the work to understand what making the change looks like on the other end.” If change is directed from the top without a deep understanding of what happens at the desk level, team members won’t be able to execute on the plan. Martell proposes starting with the people who’ve had an acute personal experience of the problem, and who, for all practical purposes, are waiting for someone to show up with a plan. Nonetheless, it’s important to recognize that they may not view the problem the exact way you do, so to influence them you have to first learn about their existing roles, responsibilities and tasks.
Ensure that no one is shamed or punished as you attack the problem. As Martell says, “Shame works in the short term to correct bad behavior. It’s a fear-based motivator. We know it works because we’ve all felt it.” Shaming triggers defensiveness and resistance as a guard against feeling like a bad or incompetent person. It may enforce short-term compliance, but in the long term, it breeds skepticism, suspicion, and checking out.
Keep yourself motivated. Your motivation is crucial in two ways. First, team members need to believe in your motivation to have confidence that you will be able to keep them on track and moving forward, so it’s important to be able to name your motivation and articulate it constantly, to help keep your allies moving forward with you. Second, because we are creatures of habit and resist change ourselves — often, even when it is a change that we want — keeping your purpose firmly in mind will help you power through the inevitable obstacles that will arise.
Pick your battles. Martell acknowledged that “You’re not going to change the world tomorrow… [so] apply your energy where there is fertile ground. You create change by building influence, and you build influence by having small victories.” People are most likely to stay committed to your cause when they see that there’s ongoing progress. So it’s important to identify the sources of power that already exist in your organization in order to build the relationships and network that will let you amass a track record of successes.
There will be no shortage of problems to resolve both during the current pandemic and when we are in recovery from it. But you’re likely to work through the immediate problems as well as others in the future more quickly and more effectively if you use these six stages to connect yourself, your purpose, and your colleagues.