Any major change program brings with it stress and uncertainty for the people impacted. They are nervous about the unknown and unsure of their futures and whether they will be able to survive and thrive in the proposed new world. To get everyone to accept the changes, and actively participate, you need to lighten the mood and increase engagement using some fun change strategies. Here are ten strategies that were hugely successful in a recent major program of work.
- Give your project a fun name or theme
A great way to get people engaged and on board for a project is to give it a name they can relate to. You could run a competition to choose the name, and don’t be afraid to go with something that appears corny. If you market it the right way and are totally committed to the branding, people will get on board. In a recent case we used the Star Wars theme, using the branding all the way throughout the project. It worked well because we were able to use the analogy of space travel from the old world to the new world as part of the messaging.
The training incorporated the main Star Wars characters and the posters and communications used in the lead up carried the theme all the way through them. At ‘go live’ we even had people dressed in Star Wars costumes and decorated the workplace with Star Wars memorabilia. It was a true celebration! People loved it because it brought light heartedness to a serious and significant change. Admittedly some executives cringed and questioned whether we should be doing something so corny, but the engagement results spoke for themselves. We even had people bidding to buy the posters and cardboard cut-outs after the project was completed, so we actually made a profit on our marketing investment.
- Run your change plan like a marketing campaign
While change management is a serious business, the process you use to get people engaged and keep them on-board is no different to a normal marketing campaign. You need to understand what is relevant to them (impacts), use the most effective channels to communicate with them, employ marketing strategies that grabs their attention, then run a campaign that keeps them engaged throughout the change and finally celebrate when you ‘go live’. This is the aim of any good marketing campaign; get people to buy into what you are offering. Remember to be creative and surprise your target audience.
Don’t be afraid to use competitions to gain even greater engagement. People love a prize and the lure of winning something will help encourage people to take on board your key messages. If you have chosen a theme try and keep your prizes in line with it so you are reinforcing the project.
- Recruit positive people from the business as change agents
Quite often a project team is made up of specialists who have been brought in specifically to deliver the project. While this is good form, also remember you need to recruit people from the impacted stakeholders to ensure the right business perspective and support. By choosing people with a positive attitude they will become another important communication channel to share your informal messaging with the teams and provide you with an honest barometer of how people are feeling about the changes throughout the project.
To ensure they have the right information to share and remain positive, conduct regular meetings to provide them with updates. I have found that my meetings are always eagerly anticipated by the participants and I think that’s because we maintain a fun environment and always, always have lollies on offer. It’s hard to be negative when you are debating the virtues of red snakes versus chocolate frogs.
- Coach your change agents on their elevator pitch
If you want to enhance the effectiveness of your sales team (oops I mean change agents) you will need to train them in the best way to deliver your key messages succinctly. In the world of sales we call this an elevator pitch. We ran a training session for our change agents where they had to identify the key points of interest for their teams and then write scripts for their two minute elevator pitch. They presented their responses to a group and videoed it. This meant that they got to practice their pitch in a safe environment and received feedback which helped them hit the key delivery points. It may seem a bit rehearsed but you wouldn’t send a performer onto a stage without a rehearsal.
- Find the untapped creativity or skills you can use
By identifying who in your impacted team has creative skills you can use you will not only get another change advocate but it will also help the team become more engaged. When we did this we found people with some fantastic artistic and presenting skills who were very eager to be involved. As they went about developing their creations they would share their growing enthusiasm with others.
- Sell your benefits and key messages, maybe even create a video or two
Just like when you undertake any change in consumer or corporate behaviour you need to sell the benefits of the new product or service. This means identifying what are the best key messages for your target audience and then presenting them in the most positive way. Importantly you can’t avoid the harsh reality of the situation but you can make sure that you are presenting a balanced view in the most positive light so that they don’t switch off or even worse start rallying against you.
In today’s world everyone is very familiar with the YouTube and the short video clip, so create your own. Grab some people from the business as your talent, brainstorm an idea, write a script and go about shooting the video. It’s very likely that there will be someone in your team who can shoot and edit it for you and even if there isn’t, it will only cost around $2,000 to get a 3 minute clip professionally produced. Make it fun, include some inspirational music, keep it simple and on message with your theme and you will have another winner that people will be talking about.
- Involve your biggest critics in your workshops
In any project you will have doomsayers in your target group. Often the best way to change someone’s negative attitude about something is to give them some responsibility for the solution. We included these people in the impact assessment process because they were great at pointing out all the potential impacts and risks. Then, with proper facilitation during these meetings, they went back to the business and shared their insights about how the project was listening and that there was a plan to manage the changes.
- Make your training a fun story telling event
All too often training focuses just on the changes and making sure that people understand their new skills and responsibilities. The problem with that approach is that most of us don’t think of our jobs as just a group of skills, and the training can be very dry. We think of our jobs in terms of end-to-end processes. So to ensure everyone understands the changes in context the best delivery approach is to tell stories that show you not only understand their jobs and the end-to-end process, but also the impacts the changes will have, the benefits the project will deliver and what skills will be needed.
Recruiting people from the business to co-deliver the training and then supporting them through ‘train the trainer’ programs and on-the-job coaching means that the participants will see that the training is tailored to the audience and being delivered by one of their own. Again don’t forget the lollies, as the sugar hit and novelty factor will help maintain a fun and productive learning environment. If you want the learner to apply new skills at ‘go live’, then provide them with a ‘play pen’ or ‘sandpit’ where they can practice in a safe and supported environment prior to the big date.
- Create a presence
A critical success factor of any change program is ensuring that you have a highly visible presence through project messaging, and posters that reinforce the upcoming changes. Fortunately, when we did our skills assessment we found a cartoonist working in the impacted group and engaged her to create a large piece of artwork that highlighted the changes. Not only did it outline the impacts and benefits of the project, it also became a high profile talking piece while hanging in the lunch room. As a result the project got itself another change advocate as well as becoming the conversation piece for weeks.
- Make go live a celebration event
The ‘go live’ of any project is a time of anticipation, nervousness, fear and hopefully celebration. So create an event that addresses every one of those emotions.
Provide communications leading up to ‘go live’ that keeps everyone appropriately informed. Make sure you have a highly visible and well-trained group of support staff and floor walkers to help throughout the first week. You can make them stand out even more by dressing them in bright colours or project t-shirts that show who to go to should anyone need help. Our floor walkers wore t-shirts that had “Jedi Master” printed on them, and interestingly, after the project they were highly sought after and traded amongst the team members. Coach your floor walkers to keep calm and continue to portray an air of confidence even when things may go wrong. But as they say; the show must go on, so just smile and keep going.
Decorate the workspace prior to go live so that when people come in they immediately know things have changed. Have a welcoming committee at the entrance and have members walking around and talking to people to address any fears they may have. Another strategy that works well is to give people a welcome gift at their work station to further celebrate the changes.
You should also make sure that the relevant leaders and managers are on hand to celebrate with the team both in person and by their emails.
Then when you are sure things are a success throw a huge party for all of the team that worked hard to make it happen.