In today’s world, with its incessant triggers, getting and retaining attention in a change process is not an easy task. Especially when people have become accustomed to certain patterns, it is challenging to encourage them to act. This typically raises questions: How can I ensure that managers and employ- ees understand that we must move now? How do I reinforce that message?
To gain and retain attention for a problem that people are no longer aware of, because it has been going on for a long time, a powerful symbolic experience that moves people is often required. The following case illustrates what this can look like in practice.
In a food group, turnover has decreased for several consecutive years while costs have risen. This has become “normal” in the company.
Managers and employees have got used to negative results. There have been many discussions about the underlying cause, and there is a consensus that this is due to a fragmented product portfolio. However, the portfolio has been adjusted with baby steps, where giant steps are needed. The director of this organisation is looking for a way to make it clear to management and employees that these negative results are no longer acceptable and that the product range must be overhauled drastically.
So, he does the following:
He first instructs a colleague to quietly make a dummy version of each product in their entire portfolio. He then has all these product variants placed on fifteen long tables in a warehouse and provides each product with a card showing the turnover and profitability. Then he takes the group of managers and other senior employees to this warehouse and confronts them with this image.
A genuine sense of surprise, disbelief and indignation follow because no one can con sciously explain why such a fragmented product range is offered to consumers. Of course, it’s inexplicable because it’s not profitable!
After this shock, reducing the product portfolio by 30 per cent is a simple task because everyone now understands the seriousness and necessity of it. Seeing is believing!
Tip for change leader
This example worked in practice because it really got to the heart of the matter, and was highly confrontational. To make the solution work for you, look at Challenge 37 and clarify which beliefs live below the surface that need to be tackled. That will help you design an impactful experience.
Tip for change enabler
In this example, the change enabler who proposed this approach was laughed at, at first. He eventually convinced the change leader that confrontation was necessary to get everyone moving. This required courage and determination. Follow this example: stand for what you believe in, and do it.
An impactful symbolic experience is necessary now and then to get genuine attention and action. Such a powerful intervention can bring the change story to life and make it tangible. However, you cannot do such an intervention too often, because then you will lose the organisation’s trust, or the intervention may come across as a management trick. Therefore, make sure that you use this change intervention consciously and authentically.