How B2B marketers can develop “change readiness” for peak performance

By Chuck Leddy

Marketing technology is ever-changing, and so are customer behaviors and expectations. B2B marketers live in a world of constant, even accelerating, change. Perhaps the most essential ingredient for marketing success today is “agility,” both at the individual and organizational level. What is agility? Simply put, it’s the ability to accommodate change as it comes – think “change readiness.”

Effective change readiness – and change management – is about dynamically deploying a “change triangle” of technology, people, and processes, continually aligning and adapting each part of that triangle to meet your organization’s evolving needs. Unsurprisingly, managing change is one of the major components of the Sojourn Solutions Peak Performance Strategic Framework.

While the need for change is widely known, and almost every organization is driving transformation and change initiatives of various kinds, a stubborn fact remains. Change is hard. More often than anyone cares to admit, change initiatives fail. What can marketers do to more effectively drive change? This post offers some answers.

Recognize That Failure is Common

Lior Arussy’s book Next is Now: 5 Steps for Embracing Change explores the deep psychological obstacles that individuals and organizations confront as they seek to embrace change. Arussy offers 5 practical, actionable steps that individuals and organizations can take to effectively manage the change process.

Arussy found that failure is the norm, not the exception. He conducted a study with Harvard Business Review that benchmarked 422 companies, asking executives about their success in driving change. The study uncovered a “success” rate of nine percent (9%). Yes, only 9 percent of companies said that the change initiatives they were planning had actually delivered on their promised goals.

When Arussy researched the top reasons for these failures, all were human-related factors. What contributed most to failed change initiatives? People within the organization didn’t understand the “why” behind the change. Senior leadership didn’t communicate the purpose and plan effectively. Senior leadership itself was often not aligned behind the change.

So budgets, technologies, and processes aren’t the main obstacles to change: people are.

5 Steps for Embracing Change

Arussy offers a brilliant, 5-step process that B2B marketers can follow to effectively drive change initiatives within their teams and organizations:

1. Face the truth. People will sometimes misrepresent the truth in order to justify not changing. All change must begin with an accurate assessment of where you are now, identifying the gap between where you are and where you seek to go. Assessing where you are as a marketing operations team is, of course, a key part of Sojourn’s Peak Performance Strategic Framework, and can be benchmarked via this assessment. No sugar-coating allowed, just a realistic check-up. From there, leaders must acknowledge the emotional side of change, including how people naturally respond to change with fear, uncertainty, and resistance. Leaders sometimes think, “it’s business. not personal.” Well, facing change is personal on a deeply human level. Acknowledging where you are and recognizing the difficulties ahead are the place to begin all change initiatives.

2. Analyze the emotions around change. Ignoring the “natural” human emotions around change may seem attractive, but it actually leads to more pushback and/or passive resistance down the road. Leaders should start by opening up a dialogue, a safe space for the team to express objections, resistance, and fears as part of the change management process. When people hide or bury their fears, the feelings don’t disappear. They simply become hidden saboteurs that will undermine the change initiative. Allow people to reflect, even upon the negative, so that they can start developing methods to positively approach the change. Don’t skip over this emotional reckoning with the change. Your team needs to do this before it can embrace any “appealing vision” that the change represents..

3. Redefine the change to emphasize continuity. Help your team bridge the past and the future by letting people see consistency between what they did before and what they’ll be doing next. When you do this, you reduce insecurity and enable people to comfortably experiment with new things. If your people feel, “part of embracing change means admitting to myself and others that I’ve been doing it wrong or wasting my time for the past few years,” you’ll have a problem. When instead marketers can see continuity amidst the change, it helps them build that bridge between now and what’s next. As a 2018 Harvard Business Review article explains it, “effective change leadership has to emphasize continuity — how what is central to ‘who we are’ as an organization will be preserved, despite the uncertainty and changes on the horizon.”

You might emphasize continuity by communicating about what Arussy calls your “core cause,” which is basically your collective mission of impacting other people. It’s not about making money or ROI, but about the impact you make on others, most likely your customers. That impact doesn’t change even if the tools you leverage do indeed change. When you separate your core cause/mission from your tools, you build in more flexibility and allow your team to adapt accordingly. It’s about allowing people to see that they are staying true to themselves and their mission, which acts as a North Star. The change is merely a change of the “how” not the “why”: tools and processes may come and go, but not the team’s identity and purpose/mission.

4. Climb the mountain (of change) one step at a time. People may understand change rationally and conceptually, but if they don’t apply change to the concrete details of how they work each day (i.e., their behaviors), they’ll simply revert back to the old ways. To get change to “stick,” you need to invest a disproportionate amount of energy reinforcing the small, daily details that create the larger change.

Create a good climate for change by empowering people to try new things without the fear of embarrassment, and allow them to actually quantify the change. The moment people start quantifying the change to daily, weekly, and monthly performance goals, they’ll recognize that the change is actually doable, and they gain momentum behind the change. Always remember that the small details are what drive even the biggest changes. You climb the mountain to peak performance one step at a time. Zoom in and zoom out, because even climbing the tallest peak requires careful attention to each step.

5. Own change as a necessary muscle. Change management is a muscle that must be regularly developed and flexed by individuals and teams. It’s a muscle that requires routine exercise, rather than heavy lifts once in a while. Bring change into your own life and your team’s as often as possible and in small quantities, so everyone can be “change-ready.” The more accustomed your people are to change, even in the smallest of ways, the better they’ll be able to adapt. You can even hire people who display the capacity to change.

Arussy’s main idea, as embodied in the 5 steps described above, is that change management is a profoundly human, and thus emotional, process. B2B marketing leaders should always err on the side of too much communication (especially around purpose and plans) rather than too little. Getting the human factors wrong can torpedo even the finest technology and the most efficient processes, as Arussy’s research shows. The better you get at making space for the inherent messiness of change, the better your change initiatives will go.

Reach out to us today to complete your complimentary assessment. In our experience, Peak Performance is when you can replicate excellence efficiently and you know when and why you are at your peak or not. We’ve helped our customers reach the necessary change-readiness to get there, and we’d like the opportunity to help you, too.

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