How to build a compelling case for change
A well-articulated and persuasive case for change connects and inspires people inside an organization, and sometimes beyond.
To achieve this goal, leaders must define the case for change at the beginning, break it down into clear themes and strategic initiatives, describe what it will look like at various stages, and translate it into an exciting shared vision. Here’s how you can create your own compelling case for change in three easy steps.
#1 - Describe the current state.
What is the current state and what is not working well (or could be working better)? What are the indicators that change is necessary? What are the consequences or risks of not changing? What is the urgency (i.e. why is this change being made now)? How much time do we have to change? What do we need to start, stop or continue doing?
By describing the current state, you engage people by showing them the benefits (i.e. "What’s In It For Me" or WIIFM) as part of a change.
You can educate people on why this change is important to the organization, and how it fits in with the organization’s vision and values.
For senior leaders, risk management is key, so describing the consequences or risks of not changing really speaks to their intrinsic motivators and prompts action. For front-line employees, you combat resistance by describing the current state, because it helps to build awareness of the change.
A lack of information or rumours makes it easy to conclude that change is failing, so get ahead of the rumour mill and communicate what’s not working well in the current state.
#2. Describe the future state.
What is the vision for the change? What are the intended business outcomes? How does this change fit into the overall business strategy? How will we know when we reach the future state?
I'm sure you're familiar with Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.
Risk-averse cultures, past negative experiences with change, group-think and departmental silos can all eat away at your case for change, if you don’t define the vision for the future and how you plan to get there.
When you involve people from the get-go in change, they are simply more likely to buy into it.
Involve people in building the solution by describing the future state. Become a true sponsor for change by communicating a shared vision that is relevant, practical and urgent. Tie the change to key performance indicators (KPI) so that top management have clarity of purpose.
Bridge the gap between top management and the rest of the organization by demonstrating alignment of the change with the organization’s vision, values and strategic objectives.
#3. Describe the steps that will be taken to manage the change.
How will the change be managed? What are the key milestones and dates? How long will it take to get to the future state? Who can I contact for more information, help and support?
People desire certainty and increases in autonomy, so it’s best to communicate how the change will be managed with honesty and transparency–even if it's not yet defined. At least tell them it’s being designed and describe the role they will play in the creation. Else, you will encounter what I like to term FOMO or the "fear of missing out.” People need to be heard and need to know that their feedback has been given careful consideration.
People also want a stake in the game. They want to be part of something successful and to be part of the driving force. It is important to provide people with autonomy and goals, but especially critical to ask them how they think they can help. When people feel their opinion matters, they are more engaged and want to work harder.
After you’ve successfully built your case for change you will definitely want to measure whether it is, in fact, compelling and effective. Conduct a survey of your key stakeholders, asking key questions such as:
Is the vision realistic?
Is the vision relevant?
How well is the vision perceived?
Do employees and managers have the same interpretation of the vision?
Is the reality of change exposed honestly and openly?
Can you tell me WIIFM and the key benefits of the change?
What’s the motivation to change?
There you have it, the formula to creating a compelling case for change. Articulate your compelling case for change frequently and well, and you’ll quickly undermine the skeptics in your organization. If you use these three steps to carefully craft your case for change, your change efforts will facilitate momentum throughout your organization, rallying the people you need behind the change so the new way of working effectively becomes “the way it’s done around here”.