In today’s world of intense competition, disruptive technology and the age of the customer, we know that we have to change and our organizations must change to survive.
But, how do you sell change to others when you know that on average there will be about 20% of people who will support you and look at change as an opportunity, about 50% will be fence-sitters and need to be actively sold, and the remaining 30% will be actively resisting change. Your change strategy requires you to continually sell through both planning and implementation as you need to reinforce the benefits from change.
You will need a strategy that includes six essential elements as the foundation plus two important personal characteristics.
Six Elements of Strategy
1. Recognition of the need to change – usually created by real or perceived external threats to a business from market changes, new competitors or disruptive technology. A strong and determined leader or leadership group must be aware of the need to change, recognize the effects of this “burning platform” and the urgency for action and be willing to take the journey. You, as the leader must lead the change, not delegate it.
2. Timing – the single most important component to gaining initial “buy-in” to the change that you are selling. The right timing can build the required momentum to get your colleagues, management and the boardroom excited about your idea(s). You must possess extreme patience with the right amount of knowledge to determine your timing. You will need a small core of influential leaders from the 20% of change advocates and from the 50% of fence-sitters. As you build this group you will be able to sense the best timing in relation to the external threats impacting the parts of the business you are wanting to change.
3. Assessment of the current level of customer culture – the leader initiates an assessment of the culture to establish a starting position from which specific objectives and targets are established. This takes two forms:
A. Qualitative assessment of the culture from interviews of a cross-section of people in the business. This provides in-depth insight into the culture, it builds relationships and additional buy-in and reduces the risk of resistance to skill development and culture change.
B. Quantitative measurement of the level of customer culture benchmarked against peers. This identifies strengths and weaknesses in relation to business strategy. It provides focus and targets for a transformation plan.
4. Clarity of customer culture vision and goals – you and your “change team” need to craft and refine the vision, goals, strategy and priorities. This needs to have within it a sense of urgency that can be easily communicated and understood by your target audiences in the organization.
5. Development of a change plan – as a leader you and your team need to develop a roadmap of steps and a realistic time plan to build a strong customer culture.
6. Displaying credibility through competency and know-how – Showcase strong competency levels by assembling a diverse team that can help you execute and sell the change all the way through to the end. You will need people with a shared set of values and agreement on a broad plan for change and a willingness to follow the roadmap. Members also agree that market needs should drive organizational change towards a strong customer culture. The team’s role is to implement a change plan that engages the targeted parts of the organization in the change effort. You will need to set some achievable targets and be confident you can deliver to them.
Two Personal characteristics
A change initiative to create and maintain a strong customer culture requires continual selling. It takes time to achieve and tenacity to follow through. Desire and mental toughness are the personal ingredients needed for success.
Having the required tenacity, endurance and passion to sell change all the way through to the end is never easy and could be the ultimate breaking point to your successful change management and change leadership efforts. It requires a level of desire that makes it mandatory for you to get your hands dirty throughout the ongoing selling cycle. This means that you need to be ready to face uncertainty head-on and welcome the fiercest battles from those among the 30% who want you to fail.
Desire is not just being willing and able to tackle any tension points through the journey of selling change – but more so an ability to accept the fact that you must continue to sell the change as much as you lead it. Selling change is difficult and it takes a special level of desire in order to translate something that may be difficult for others to see into something that is concrete enough for people to believe in.
2. Mental toughness
To withstand the resistance by those affected by the change you are selling demands mental toughness. For example, you may have the will, the skills and desire to sell change – but you may not be mentality tough enough to finish each task at hand.
Mental toughness allows you to “separate issues” and compartmentalize them in a strategic fashion that strengthens your desire (rather than weakens your spirits).
Do you have a strategy for change? Do you have the selling skills to sell it? If so, do you have the desire and mental toughness to follow through until you get there?