The day that Change became a new brand of shampoo

Please, let me first reassure you, I won’t try to convince you that change will make your hair brighter, cleaner, or fuller. What I want to propose is to stop thinking about Change like a weird beast that you must manage before it get out of control and go berserk on your business, putting half your staff in sick leave or in search for another job.

Let’s try to take a look at Change as if it would be a new product to put on the market. Suppose for a few minutes that you’re in the market to sell Change. As for everything in your life, you want this Change business to be a huge success. So, you want to sell a hell of a lot of it!  

Now, what do you do to make it a humongous success? What would you do to market it properly? You would promote it!

Coming from the marketing industry this always seemed obvious to me. See, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy contributing to the global over-consumption problem. In my younger years, I invested a lot of energy promoting stuff, mostly cosmetics.   

I remember spending a lot of billing time searching for ways to promote red lipstick as if it was the next best thing after the creation of the new … pink lipstick. From website to free sample distribution or loyalty programs, nothing would have stopped us from trying, and we had the mission to promote and sell. Of all those, shampoo was my favourite cosmetic product. Maybe because, as a guy, that was one product I could relate to. You see, like women, we, men, must wash our hair, but we are less prompt to using red or pink lipstick. Most of all, shampoos have awesome benefits; they’ll make your hair fuller and brighter, make the blondes blonder, the brunettes …“brunetter” and the redheads … just more flamboyant.

Well, anyway, suffice to say that between all these colours, we had a lot of fun and sold a lot of stuff.

Moving from marketing to IT…

So, a few years later, I’m working as a project manager for an insurance company. We’re integrating a portfolio of insurance products and IT solutions that the organization inherited from their last acquisition.

It was early spring, and we’re about ten sitting in a room to kick off a project. That’s the day I was introduced to my first change management specialist.

He introduced himself has a “Senior Change Management Specialist”, with two capital “S”.

  • “No worries, he says, I got everything under control. My STRATEGY is to develop a STRATEGIC Communication Plan in order to STRATEGICALLY address the most important message that is needed to be STRATEGICALLY delivered to STRATEGICALLY targeted groups impacted by the acquisition.”

… I am livid.

Early in my career, I was introduced to the strategic aspect of things by an enlightening mentor, but that was a lot of repetitions of the word “STRATEGY” in a single sentence.

So, with courage, I ask a single question to “THE Specialist” with a grey moustache:

  • “’Scuse me Sir, but what would be that message?”
  • “I’m glad you’re asking, boy. We’ll tell them that this acquisition was necessary to the survival of the company. There will be some associate changes, but change is good. It will be a very positive message.” His reply is kind, as if he was talking to a little puppy.

That’s it, I’m terrorized!

  • “But, Sir, how’s that going to convince the employees and middle managers that the change is a good thing for them? How is this mobilizing staff in any way? You’re sure this will help to ‘sell’ the change throughout the company.”
  • “What are you talking about, son?”
  • “What am I talking about? I’m talking about changing the technology of three call centres throughout the country, centralizing part of them in the East Montreal office, which will impact more than 600 individuals. Shall I remind you all, we’re talking about human beings here!”  
  • “That I know, I’ve read the file! But where are you going with your ‘selling the change’ thing?!? It’s not like it’s a new brand of shampoo.”
  • “Well, I’m mean, euh…” He cut me off guard here, “Wouldn’t it be a good thing to try to sell the idea that the change is good? I mean like if it was a product, so the staff would see there are some benefits for them.”
  • “Ha ha ha, you’re funny, kid, like they have a say about it. The change is happening, whatever they want it or not…”
  • “But, Sir…”
  • “Okay, now that we all agree, can we move on?”

Good lord! I’m engaged in delivering a project with a gerontological lunatic moron.

Thus, right after that meeting, I grab my friend Phillip, program manager, for an urgent and “not-strategic-at-all” cup of coffee.

  • “The guy is a nutcase,” I said to Phil.
  • “He’s the CEO’s best friend,” he says without a smile.
  • “So?” (meaning “I’m not kidding”)
  • “So, are you planning on going to work somewhere else?” (still not smiling)
  • “OK, so you’re proposing that we’re going to Nowhere Land with Mr. Strategic Moustache? When it fails, and it will, he’ll blame us for it!”
  • “Sure he will, told you, CEO’s best friend.” (amused)
  • “So, you want us to follow his lead? You must be kidding!”
  • “Not exactly, but do you have anything to propose or you’re just mad at our parent’s generation?” (finally smiling)
  • “Well, we could put together a promotional plan to inform… No, not inform, but literally SELL the acquisition and the change that will impact the staff; we’re going to sell them the idea! Like when I was in marketing, just like if it was THE new brand of shampoo!”
  • “And can you ‘strategically’ adjust your promotional plan to the ‘Strategic plan’ of your dear friend?”
  • “It will be the best idea he’ll ever have! Deal?”
  • “Deal!”  

Therefore, I took upon myself to coach Mr. Moustache into “strategically” endorse a Change Promotion Plan that would crystallize his “very positive message” in ways he could not believe possible.

First, create the demand with teasing messages. The key is to build up the desire for something new to happen on a daily basis. Then, unveil the new product, not the change, but the extraordinary new company, and most of all the benefits there is to work for this so great company. Finally, highlight the most human values that come up with this renaissance. There, you’ve got yourself a nice little promotional plan.

And then, if you do well and you’re a bit lucky, things can go well.

Promoting change

From T-shirts to car stickers, we distributed so much free stuff to the employees that you could read on every corner of every office in the country “Coming soon… The Biggest insurance company in Canada”.

Mr. Strategic Moustache was so proud of himself! What a great idea he had to promote the change.

In the corridors, at the coffee machine, you could hear the employees discussing how proud they were to be part of “The Power to Insure Canada!”

The calling centres’ employees were eager to try the new technology, since we’ve been sending them teasers for weeks, explaining the benefits of the new terminals, the comfort of the new headphones. The new training was welcomed by most, and some employees even asked to be trained as trainers.

Then, I started to receive emails from employees proposing local and not-so-local initiatives to facilitate some part of the transition.  

For those who had to change offices, we formed a welcoming committee to support their integration. Someone even suggested a little brochure detailing the close neighborhood shops, restaurants, free parking spaces and bus schedules. The day they arrived, there was free lunch, cake … and a lot of smiles.

Of course, all the efforts deployed were not done just out of kindness, and I’m still not sure that the new headphones were so amazingly comfortable…

Conclusion

Yes, it was not all true; it was part marketing, part positive manipulation, part human kindness.

But one thing’s for sure, as long as we see change as a threat, it can surely become an ugly beast that will derail the organization. Mr. Moustache was partially right: change will always happen whether we want it or not. Still, it’s up to us to see and present it as something new that will better our lives.

Like this amazing new brand of shampoo that will make our hair brighter and bolder…!

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Julien Saucier

Julien’s coaching approach is profoundly human. He seeks to establish a dialogue in order to reach individual objectives in line with a collective vision. He has a solid expertise in organizational transformation and executive coaching. First and foremost, he defines himself by his actions and tries everyday to embody communication, collaboration and value delivery.

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