Over the past few decades, I’ve seen my share of cultural change processes and company transformations attempted in organizations, including becoming more customer focused or market driven, improving employee or customer engagement, innovation and many more. And what they all share (in common with becoming brand-centric) are the two paths organizations generally take in trying to get there. Let’s take a look at the first path, one you’ll most likely decide you don’t want to follow once you see how it turns out.
Path 1: The vicious cycle of change management
Too often organizations put the majority of their change-management efforts into one functional basket. In other words, rather than focus on all the areas of functional alignment required to create real change, they place their bets largely on one — such as training — to drive the transformation.
Even when they do address multiple areas of functional alignment, they often implement them in an order that fails to build momentum and commitment. Instead they take a poorly planned approach, which leads to a vicious cycle where progress is slow and frustration is fast to come. Some of the most common reasons for this approach include:
- No clear understanding of what real cultural change will take
- Assigning the cultural change responsibility solely to HR
- Commitment to the appearance of change vs. real change
- Lack of alignment and participation from senior management in the change
- Lack of sufficient resources (time, money, staff) assigned to make the change happen
- Lack of structure to keep the change on track and on purpose
- Not taking advantage of external expertise available to assist with the change process
Regardless of the reason, moving forward in this way has a particular look and feel to it. By learning to recognize the various signs and stages, you can stop the vicious cycle of change management in its path and redirect.
Plans, promises and commitments are made
The goal of being brand-centric starts off well enough. Teams are formed at a middle management or sometimes even senior level, meetings are held, strategies created and commitments made. Enthusiasm is middling to high, and while there may be some skepticism (or even a touch of cynicism), good intentions rule the day.
Something comes up
We’ve all heard the expression, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” At this next stage, the commitments and promises made become compromised due to distractions, interruptions, emergencies and urgent matters that come up. This includes higher-priority items, changes in management direction, inconvenience and dozens of other very reasonable-seeming excuses for why the plans for moving in a brand-centric direction can’t be delivered on.
People don’t communicate
Small or large, the commitments made and not kept have a significant impact on the process. In particular, when a commitment can’t be delivered on, the problem is compounded because often the person who made the promise doesn’t communicate that they won’t be able to get it done. Sometimes they don’t even attempt to renegotiate the timeline or deliverables. They just don’t do it. This then leads to a whole lot of back and forth as to what happened and whose fault it is.
Lack of ownership ensues
Someone, sooner or later, figures out that the promises made are not being delivered on, and the emails start flying. What happened, who was supposed to do what and what workarounds can be put in place? A “lack of ownership” atmosphere begins to take shape, momentum wanes and the brand-centric cultural-change process can start to be seen as the “program of the month.”
Anger and frustration emerge
A very wise mentor once told me that the closer you are to the agreed-upon delivery time when you tell someone you can’t do something you promised to do, the more upset they’ll be. For example, if you have a meeting with a colleague scheduled for Friday at noon, and you let them know on Monday morning of that same week that you need to reschedule, that’s probably going to be fine. After all, you gave them plenty of notice.
However, if you let them know Friday at 11:45 a.m. that you can’t make it, they’re likely to be much more upset. If you don’t tell them at all — just miss the meeting and send them an apologetic email the following Monday — they’ll really be seeing red.
That’s how it goes when the promises, plans and commitments made at the beginning of the process are not fulfilled — and not communicated. People understandably become disappointed and disengaged. They end up feeling disrespected, hurt, angry and frustrated. It’s not a pretty story, but one that must be told.
Re-plans, re-promises and re-commitment
Even in the face of these issues, the desire to become brand-centric can live on. People pull themselves up by their bootstraps, teams are brought together once again, meetings are held and commitments are remade. Momentum is noticeably lower and skepticism higher. However, the organization can break out of this vicious cycle of change management by embracing the Process of Commitment-Based Change.