Making change happen inside companies and organisations

By Stellan Björnesjö

Making change happen inside companies and organisations

organisation chart zoomaA long time ago, someone said that the first step towards the patient getting well is understanding that the patient is sick. This is very much true for businesses and organisations today, as they face an ever-changing landscape of online behaviour from consumers and customers. However, once past that first step, the real challenge starts; making change happen inside the organisation. Don’t know where to start? Here are the first 3 things you should do.

It might sound easy, but managing change has in fact been the subject of countless of management books and papers for decades. How come it’s so darn difficult? We argue that in all companies and organisations there are mainly two things that work against change, regardless of it being a company, a specific department or a management team. 

First of all, every human being is afraid of something, and very often that something is change. We know what we have and even if we’re not entirely happy with that, we often fear the unknown even more since it could be worse than what we have. Because of this, change is most often resented, resisted and even opposed.

Secondly, in all companies and organisations, big or small, we humans build certain positions of power among our peers that some are less eager to loose than others. It’s just human nature. If we call this “internal politics”, every person with some sort of organisational experience knows what we’re talking about.

So, if we want to make real change happen in our business and department, and push our colleagues forward towards change, we have to remember that these two forces will always be working against us. This is true regardless of if the topic being discussed is resources for online, how we are organised, or what processes we use. If we want to have more resources we typically need to convince the organisation that less resource should be spent somewhere else, affecting both positions of power and raising fear of the unknown future situation.

Before moving on to the subject of how to overcome fear and internal politics and make change happen, there is one more thing that needs to be addressed, namely decisions made based on another type of fear; fear of what the competition is doing. To take one example, a very common scenario today is when a marketer might go “Shit, our main competitor got 100 000 fans on Facebook, we need to get going with this too”, and then go straight to management to get a sign-off to start investing heavily in Offsite (aka Social Media). The problem with decisions based on arguments similar to this is that they are most often motivated not by business essential metrics like leads, customers and ROI (Return On Investment), but rather only by new metrics invented by marketers such as “reach”. When the answer from management is no, marketers tend to think it is because they don’t understand, but in fact it’s because marketers failed to explain to management the benefit of the investment in terms they recognise and can relate to.

So what companies and organisations are most adapted to change and what does it take? First of all we need to get everyone to set their fear and politics aside, and to do that we need to provide a vision of something worth striving for, something so strong that it’s worth taking that risk. For that purpose we need to hire leaders and not just managers. Is there a difference you say? Someone once put it like this; “management is the delivery of acceptable results within a given frame, leadership is about changing the frame”. That’s two very different things that require very different skill sets. For once, if we want to show leadership strengths and manage change, we have to be prepared to potentially be misunderstood for quite some time. Gandhi put it well when he said; “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you”, then when they realise you are about to succeed “they fight you” and first when all that resistance is broken “then you win”.

When there are leaders in place willing to fight for change, they have to make a few things happen in order for change to occur. In addition to the vision and the stamina to go through the perils of change, leaders must also convince the organisation to let the best ideas win rather than let hierarchy or internal politics dictate which ideas win. It’s also of absolute necessity to make the organisation understand that transitioning to online is about saying no to something else, not just saying yes to online. It’s about taking concrete decisions about where resources should be allocated, and it’s about ensuring over time that enough small bets are made continuously to not ever have to place the existence of the business on a single bet.

Alright, we promised 3 simple steps to get your company or organisation started down the road of change. This is what you need to do to prove the value of online for management, reduce the level of fear inside the organisation and to make sure it’s clear who is responsible for driving online change:

Step 1: Start reporting figures for online at your regular management meetings. And when we say “figures” we mean business centric data about leads, sales and ROI as a result of online, not your weekly dose KBIs (Key Behaviour Indicators) of standard data from Google Analytics.  This is what you need to do to prove the value of online for management. And if you haven’t yet started measuring the added value of your online presence, you better get started. Now!

Step 2: Create a place called “About Online” on your organisation’s intranet where you continuously share what’s happening with online. Numbers, reports, trends and analyses, local and global, and everything else that is relevant. It’s only through this type of onboarding and education, in addition to a clear vision, that the fear and anxiety surrounding online can be overcome.

Step 3: Make sure you decide who is in charge of online inside your organisation, and who isn’t. A lot of the complexity and inability to change with regards to online comes from unclear areas of responsibility.

Be prepared for a journey that won’t always be easy, but for most industries and organisations it’s absolutely essential for survival.

Stellan Björnesjö
Online Strategist at Zooma since 2012. 15+ years of experience as a manager, business developer and specialist within online and e-commerce.
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