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Winning the Tech Game: 7 Ways Communications Can Minimize Disruption

June 1, 2018

[jason way photography]
[jason way photography]

Sophisticated innovations — including cloud computing, virtual reality, cryptocurrencies and blockchain — are redefining the way we live and work, and disrupting companies that must field these new technologies.

How can communicators smooth the road to adoption? It helps to remember that modernizing is not just a “must do.” Technology opens new possibilities for users, whether they’re employees, clients, customers or students. It delights them with better online experiences, increased efficiency and improved quality. Technology helps companies bring products to market faster, create competitive advantage with analytics, streamline logistics and customize communications. And it levels the playing field for small and medium-sized businesses.

Yet change brings disruption. We’ve all heard about agile startups upending entire industries: Netflix has almost three times as many subscribers as Comcast has video customers. Uber cars are eclipsing taxis. And Amazon is challenging almost every business. When companies upgrade to new technologies, disruption extends from routines and policies to personnel and corporate culture.

Guiding your organization through change

A February 2017 study from the market-research firm Forrester found that while business executives recognize the need for expanding their companies’ digital capabilities, they have little confidence in their own senior management’s ability to set an effective course. Eighty-nine percent of executives believe their businesses will be disrupted or feel significant impact from new technology within the next 12 months. Sixty-eight percent of business-unit leaders feel their companies’ functional teams impede effective coordination, and two-thirds of employees believe their functional departments are inflexible.

In his April 2013 article “Change Management Needs to Change,” Harvard Business Review contributor Ron Ashkenas reported that most studies showed a 60 to 70 percent failure rate for organizational-change projects. The article suggested the problem might not have been strategy, but implementation — particularly a failure to communicate.

As communications experts Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez point out in their book “Illuminate: Ignite Change through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols” (Portfolio, 2016), change is an epic journey, and leaders are torchbearers who light the path. Stories that connect people to a brand’s mission, goals and values can keep them motivated along the way.

The authors cite one famous example: In 1997, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs needed to win over employees, developers and customers to his vision for reinventing the company. His solution was the “Think Different” campaign, which declared: “Here’s to the crazy ones … because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

To guide your organization through its own changes, tell a story that reflects your company culture. Samuel J. Palmisano, who was chairman and CEO of IBM before he retired in 2012, said Big Blue’s “revolutionary idea was to define and run a company by a set of strongly held beliefs.”

At my company, Booz Allen, we’ve found that uniting employees around timeless values gives them a shared mission and energy for the road ahead.

Leading the way to transformation

Once you’ve rallied employees around a story that resonates, the next step is to lead the way to transformation. Here are some tips:

  1. Embrace change. Begin with yourself. Adopt the outlook of “continual change means continual growth” and you will influence others to do the same.
  2. Keep the end goal in mind. Your goal is not only the most inspiring part of your story; it also reminds people of the purpose for your quest. As Jobs said to his application developers: “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology.”
  3. Start with the “why.” Clearly explain the benefits the change will bring. As Apparel Magazine reported in October 2013, a South African retailer achieved buy-in on a new lifecycle-management system by emphasizing to its most challenging group — buyers and designers — how the new structure would combine the flexibility they loved with a strong framework.
  4. Engage with multiple stakeholders. Support from senior leaders is essential for greenlighting new initiatives; commitment from the front lines is crucial for implementing them. And technologists have different concerns than human resources specialists. Ask for each group’s perspective, and address questions from their vantage point.
  5. Get multidisciplinary input. Related to No. 4, but in this case you’re the one receiving the benefits. Your crisis management plan should already cover what to do when a person makes a mistake. But what about when a computer makes a mistake? In emerging areas like artificial intelligence, solid guidelines have not yet been established. To help you prepare, ask colleagues with expertise in legal, social media, employee relations and other disciplines for their insights.
  6. Use pilot programs to build experience and trust. Before rolling out a new technology across the board, road-test it with one part of the business. Then tweak and gather feedback to ensure the technology serves the end user.
  7. Extend your story beyond adoption to deployment. Your destination is not just to complete rolling out a new system, but to celebrate the results you see rolling in.

Forrester’s March 2018 study, “Stop Improving Your Marketing Processes: Start Disrupting,” reveals that the share of consumers demanding innovation in products and experiences increased from 39 percent of the U.S. population in 2015 to 44 percent in 2016 — a number that continues to rise. The trend means opportunity for you.

A company that makes change happen is positioned to gain market share. Make sure everyone in your organization knows they have a role in building its success, and you’re playing a winning game.

Grant McLaughlin

Grant McLaughlin, vice president, corporate affairs for Booz Allen Hamilton, brings a strategic edge to employee engagement and integrated marketing, reinventing the editorial voice and driving revenue with metrics aligned to client insights and data-driven targeting. His transformative team includes emerging technologists, digital marketers and analytical powerhouses. Follow him on Twitter @grantrmc.

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