Change management is a critical enabler for your efforts to nurture a more customer-driven culture and get your growth flywheel spinning faster. Yet many companies struggle to address barriers to change for their CX initiatives, even when they invest significant time and money on change management. This blog is intended to spark some ideas for you on how to change the game for your change efforts. It builds on my earlier book review for The Catalyst by Professor Jonah Berger from Wharton. It applies the REDUCE framework from the book with a focus on how you can pivot to more effective change management strategies to unlock greater ROI from your CX investments. We’ll apply the same principles to externally focused change efforts to drive adoption of behaviors by your customers in a later blog.
Understanding the Barriers to Change
Professor Berger's book critiques the all-too-typical approach of “pushing” people to change. To overcome this and other root causes of change fatigue and failed “transformation” programs, he shares ways that you can identify and systematically mitigate barriers to change. This makes a lot of sense, as it’s much easier to ski downhill. By understanding the obstacles that individuals face when confronted with change, organizations can develop more effective strategies, leading to stronger and more sustainable motivation and commitment to change.
Reactance, the first element of the REDUCE framework, is the innate resistance people exhibit when they feel their freedom is being threatened. Even giving people the perception of control helps to overcome their reactance. Endowment refers to the tendency to overvalue what we already possess, resulting in a change premium that you must overcome to get people to make commitments and follow through on them. Distance highlights the difficulty of persuading people when their beliefs differ significantly from yours. It’s harder to get someone to listen when there’s a bigger gap between your current mindsets, plus people will take away different things from the conversation based on their starting positions. This means that one-to-many communications, and even one-to-one communications where you enroll stakeholders to engage others 1:1 or in smaller groups, will fall flat with a large portion of the audience given the distance between some of them. Uncertainty reflects how people resist change when they are unsure about the outcome. Lastly, Corroborating Evidence emphasizes the need for multiple pieces of supporting evidence to effect change. This helps overcome uncertainty, as well as the other barriers to change, especially when the evidence is provided by someone with whom there is a high degree of trust.
Applying the REDUCE Framework
To overcome reactance, organizations must emphasize the benefits of change and involve employees in the decision-making process. By providing a sense of autonomy and ownership, employees are more likely to embrace and support your CX initiatives. After all, people are more motivated and committed to change when they are involved in helping create the solution that is being implemented. Just being listened to will help overcome reactance, if people feel that your efforts to capture their feedback are authentic. This is especially true if they can see that you are listening to them rather than talking at them and are taking actions to address their feedback.
Many organizations focus on a cascading approach to engage stakeholders as part of their change management efforts. This helps them enroll and engage a broader set of people in the organization beyond those directly involved in coming up with the strategy and working on implementation of specific initiatives in your CX roadmap. Many companies hold town halls or other forums to foster conversations about the intended changes, such as encouraging conversations between senior leaders and their reports, and between middle managers and frontline employees. These are good change management practices but are not enough on their own to maximize the motivation and commitment to change of your people.
To have the most sustained impact and overcome reactance throughout the stages of your company’s ideate-test-scale cycle for the CX opportunities in your roadmap, you also need to engage in employee listening that better connects your CX and your EX. One simple way to do this is to conduct surveys using a platform like Qualtrics to ask simple questions about whether people understand the changes, are motivated to support them, and are committed to specific behaviors that enable the changes. You can also use platforms like Actionable.co to surface content to employees, get them to make commitments to a set of prioritized behaviors, nudge them to stay engaged, and monitor adoption of behavior through 360 degree feedback. Beyond these approaches, you can also foster conversations among employees on platforms such as Slack, Teams, and Yammer, and mine these conversations as another source of unstructured data, like how you can use Qualtrics to mine social media conversations, product reviews, chatbots, and voice-to-text transcriptions from your call center or help desk.
Proactively encouraging and listening to employee conversations will generate invaluable insights into the barriers to change, and where motivation and commitment to change are lacking. You can engage your leadership involved in CX governance on these insights every few months as part of your change management efforts across a set of program increments, looking back every few months to develop insights on the drivers of motivation and commitment to change, and looking ahead to adjust your plans for the next few months. In addition, your employees will respond to the signal you are sending by listening more actively to their feedback. This will provide a greater perception of control to them and help overcome their reactance. It will also make them feel more empowered and more likely to change their behavior, which will in turn help shift their mindsets as it is easier to act your way into new mindsets than push for changes to them via push-based approaches to influence mindsets.
Recognizing that employees tend to overvalue the status quo, organizations should highlight the benefits of proposed changes and preemptively address any perceived impact they will have on employees and customers. Communicating the positive outcomes and demonstrating how the change will enhance the customer and employee experience helps employees overcome their attachment to the status quo. We explored this idea in the context of integrating AI into an organization’s experience management practices, which you can read about here.
Creating a compelling CX vision is key to overcome inertia in your organization. Invest the time to understand how your customers and employees engage with your brand at a deeper emotional and unconscious level. Understand the “deep metaphors” that customers use to filter their experiences with your brand. Develop an “emotional motif” for the 3 to 5 emotions you want to evoke on the customer journey. Take this a step further and develop an emotional motif for your employees too. Then make sure that your CX roadmap includes initiatives to make the employee experience better, too, reinforcing the EX-CX connection by amplifying peaks and reducing valleys on your employees’ journeys that mirror the customer journey. For more on these opportunities, see my blog series that I’ve been collaborating on with my friend and mentor, Lou Carbone, in our blog series on Reimagining Insights here. You can also check out my review for Lou’s book, Clued In, which is featured among the book reviews on JourneySpark Consulting’s website along with The Catalyst here.
Bridging the gap between different perspectives is essential when driving internal change. Encourage open dialogue and create space for meaningful conversations where employees can express their concerns, share their viewpoints, and find common ground. You can encourage the sharing of stories to make the change you’re aiming to implement more tangible. By creating an environment of understanding and empathy, organizations can overcome resistance stemming from differing starting opinions.
One reason that interactive workshops are so effective at boosting motivation and commitment to change, not just generating ideas and action plans, is that they foster many parallel conversations. This spurs conversations among people with different mental models in an environment where they are more likely to build shared understanding and invest the time to co-create solutions with others that they respect and trust, serving as a catalyst to evolve their own thinking and create synthesis for a new, shared model. Creating an environment where people with diverse mindsets and skills come together to review a shared fact base, work on solutions, and develop action plans together helps to reduce and overcome distance. Not only will people be more likely to believe others in the discussion that have less distance from them, but the norms of how they behave in this setting will facilitate more active listening even to people with whom there is greater distance initially as you work towards synthesis. Moreover, even if people leave these sessions without changing their minds, they will still appreciate being included and be more likely to support the change anyway.
In social media, people listen most closely to those with less distance from themselves. Much of Professor Berger’s earlier, ground-breaking research was in how social media networks spread adoption of products and services. The same principles apply inside organizations. Rather than rely just on a limited number of “change agents,” you can proactively build a movement in your talent to get an expanding number of people engaged in your change efforts over time. This not only helps amplify your communications but spread behaviors. Engaging your internal influencers as part of your training and behavior activation efforts helps you to overcome distance, not just boost the number of conversations that are occurring. Engagement by your internal social influencers with a broad set of other employees will also help address Uncertainty and to accelerate the spread of Corroborating Evidence, as well discuss more below.
Employees resist change due to fear of the unknown. To mitigate uncertainty, organizations need to provide frequent and transparent communication about the change process. Addressing potential concerns and providing reassurance about the expected outcomes helps employees overcome their anxiety from uncertainty and embrace your desired changes more readily.
One way to increase the quality and frequency of your communications is to share a steady stream of snackable content with your employees. Engaging your employees via a townhall or other one-time event is useful, but it won’t have a sustained impact. It is hard to sustain ongoing energy for conversations among your senior leaders and managers with their personal networks of both formal direct reports and informal mentees. These are important conversations, and building a culture where they occur organically is extremely valuable. You can augment these conversations with snackable content such as an internal podcast, e-newsletter, infographics, and other short-form content that is more emotionally engaging than emails or sitting in Zoom meetings staring at talking heads in a small rectangle. Your snackable content will also spark conversations among people, which will help overcome all the barriers to change spelled out in REDUCE.
To effect change, it is crucial to present compelling evidence supporting the desired outcomes. Organizations should share success stories and other data-driven insights that demonstrate the positive impact your CX initiatives will have on customers and employees. By providing multiple pieces of concrete evidence, organizations can build credibility and encourage employees to rally behind the change initiatives. These also provide a catalyst for conversations to occur organically.
Think of corroborating evidence as equivalent to online reviews, which more than double the likelihood of someone buying a product on an ecommerce site. Whether it’s product reviews, online testimonials, or other stories that share why a product or service has had an impact on someone, these content-based experiences influence us to listen more closely and take a chance on something new. If you combine this with making the proposed changes smaller first steps, such as signing up for a pilot or agreeing to let a vendor do a proof of concept before making a commitment to annual license fees, then you are much more likely to gain support. See my blog on 10 actions you can take to create greater enterprise agility here for more on how you can catalyze these practices in your organization.
One way to increase awareness and engagement for corroborating evidence for your CX initiatives is to be more systematic in how you approach your own company’s journey and look for ways to celebrate the peaks on that journey. Whether you are an internal change champion or a customer success professional engaging your client, it is helpful to think of the personas and journeys for your journey. What are the peaks you are planning on the journey? How can you celebrate them in more visible and emotionally engaging ways? How can you encourage the sharing of stories about these peaks? How can you increase the number of authentic conversations that are occurring about these peaks, so people are more self-aware of where you are on the journey and the challenges you’ve overcome together along the way? You can spark ideas not only for your customer’s journey, but for your company’s own journey.
Catalyzing a More Customer-Driven Culture
The principles outlined in The Catalyst can serve as a guide for organizations seeking to align their internal processes and behaviors with the goal of delivering exceptional customer experiences. By employing the REDUCE framework, organizations can address the barriers to change, foster shared understanding, and promote the adoption of new behaviors. Engaging your internal influencers, sharing success stories, and celebrating peaks on your company’s journey helps create momentum and sustain motivation and commitment to change along your company’s journey.
As you embark on your journey to improve CX and drive change management internally, The Catalyst can serve as an invaluable resource, providing practical guidance and inspiring insights. Remember, change is often less about pushing people and more about removing barriers.
In an upcoming blog, we’ll apply the principles of the REDUCE framework from The Catalyst from an external perspective, namely, how to drive adoption of behaviors by your customers and narrow your “brand canyon,” which is the gap between what customers are saying about your brand and how they feel about themselves on their customer journey with your brand. I hope this blog sparked some great ideas for you, and look forward to the conversations as you look to change your game for change!