Ask for change

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PR Training and Development, Public Relations, Trust

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We change all the time. Every day, a little difference creeps into our lives and shifts the way we either work, play or view the world around us. Yet organisations and businesses struggle with change as if it were a dinosaur, unrecognisable in today’s world, out of place and time.

Strange really that this should be the case but perhaps change becomes a challenge simply because organisations – of all sorts – fail to recognise that change is a constant in every life. Change for the sake of it is rarely a good thing – my motto ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ holds fast in this context. But without change we don’t grow. Our development is stilted and futures become uncertain. When change fails the likelihood is that the reason for change is uncertain, the people involved – and it is people who are at the heart of change – have been left unrecognised or ignored. Above all, change fails when communication and collaboration collapse in a crumpled heap at the feet of mismanagement or poorly executed governance.

Public relations and communication professionals have been at the centre of change management for decades – even before change management became a discipline in its own right. We know that organisations need to maintain critical relationships in order to keep their licence to operate and relationships, by their very nature, are subject to change.When dealing with change we must deliver to outcomes and effective, timely delivery is driven by first asking (and answering) some simple but complex questions. First – will this improve our stakeholder relationships, inside and outside the organisation, so our licence to operate, our potential and ability to develop through change, is maintained? If we seek a knowledge outcome do our stakeholders know enough, understand enough, believe enough to participate, accept or help action the change? In change management, behavioural outcomes are central to overcoming the inevitability of obstacles. Are people willing to change? Do they have the skills they need to bring the project to fruition? If the changes are accepted how will our people be affected? Are our organisational behaviours the right ones? Do they demonstrate our values and purpose? Are we ethical in our behaviour and how will the proposed change alter the way we interact with our stakeholders and communities? And finally, attitude. How do we feel about all this? Emotion is a crucial factor which gets either second or no billing during the change cycle. Left unaccommodated, emotion will rip through the heart of the most carefully planned programme. Winning hearts and minds isn’t just a trite cliche.

For change to succeed both hearts and minds must back the plan to make it work.​We can ask the questions, do the research, formulate a plan, implement excellence in communication and compete the change – but what about the stumbling blocks? The obstacles? Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is an inadequate understanding on the part of the governance team as to why the change is taking place – and what life will look like once it has occurred. Reactive change implemented on the fly seldom succeeds. Purposeful change, driven by vision and mutually beneficial outcomes is the way to lead progress.

You can delve into acres of research, review countless methodologies and investigate the many alternative approaches to change management and all of it will be helpful. But at the heart of effective and productive change is the desire and willingness to improve the organisation, service or product, an understanding of the critical relationships that must be maintained with stakeholders and communities and ultimately, the delivery of tangible benefits to everyone involved.