By Maria Geokezas, Director of Client Services for Heinz Marketing

You’ve probably heard the saying “the only thing constant is change”.  If you are involved in B2B sales and marketing – assuming you are if you follow this blog – you’ve lived this mantra.  And may even have it tattooed across your forehead.

But when does change get out of hand?  When is enough enough?

New technologies have provided new tools which have changed the way we work as well as the pace and expectations of our work.  And the exponential growth of these tools is mind-boggling — consider this from Scott Brinker’s marketing technology landscape:  Just 5 years ago there were 150 companies in this space; now there are roughly 3500.  That’s 3500 different companies selling tools, systems, platforms (whatever you want to call them), that are supposed to help you do your job faster, better, smarter and drive results – with reduced costs, greater engagement, more sales and incremental ROI.

But, it’s not enough to just simply add a new tool or platform to your business infrastructure and expect to immediately reap the benefits.  These new tools may also usher in new strategies and tactics– Which will require you to reexamine the decision points, process flow and structure that enables the organization to deliver the necessary results.

You may think that because these tools are easy to adopt, or because they each serve a specific niche or specialized activity, the impact they have on the organization is minimal.  When in reality, these new tools and the strategies they enable can fundamentally change the way your organization works.  And if you aren’t conscientious about how they are brought into your organization, you could put your business at risk.  In fact, 54% — over half – of all change initiatives fail (2013 Strategy&Katzenbach Center survey).

How to Tell if It’s Not Working

It’s easy to take for granted and not recognize when focus is needed on the process of change.  Here are three tell-tale signs your change initiative isn’t working:

  1. You aren’t achieving the results you expected. Missing the sales goal is obvious, but many times the reason for the miss is not.  It can be difficult to separate a botched marketing strategy from something that changed in the way the organization delivered the strategy to market.
  2. Achieving results is taking too much time, using too many people and eating up more budget than planned. Maybe you are making your goal, but you are burning out your people and out-pacing your budget to get there.  Your margins will take a big hit and so will morale.  Plus, all your efforts to make this change will be wasted.
  3. Morale has eroded. This is the most important factor.  And arguably the most expensive.  Once you have experienced diminished morale among the mid-level and front-line staff, it’s extremely difficult to build up again.  And it could negatively impact relationships with current customers and prospects, hurting long-term sales opportunities.

The Secret is Culture

When addressing change in the organization, most business leaders focus on the mechanical elements of the change such as decision points, process flows, structure, training, performance management systems and communication.  The Strategy & Katzenbach research found these elements are important but not as important as the organization’s culture.  In fact, 84% said that the organization’s culture was critical to the success of change management, and 64% saw it as more critical than strategy or operating model.

Leveraging an organization’s culture to smooth organizational change can be difficult.  There’s no concrete way to define culture, and it’s even harder to measure it.  Yet, there are some pretty basic things leaders can do to make change initiatives successful.

  1. Utilize the strengths within the organization’s culture. First and foremost, get a handle of what makes your organization’s culture special.  This doesn’t need to involve an expensive research study or a fancy dashboard.  Simply walk around and ask your employees and colleagues to describe the company culture.  See what adjectives and values pop up most frequently.  That will put you on the right path, to start.
  2. Communicate.  Make sure everyone throughout the organization understands what will happen.  Map out your expectations using every conceivable vehicle, forum and channel.  Utilize the help of influential colleagues to help spread the word.  And continue communicating status of the change until it has been fully adopted.
  3. Model the change you want to see. Communication alone is not enough.  If leaders want to see change in the organization, they must model the change with their own behavior.  They must visibly change how they work for the rest of the organization to witness.  Most leaders underestimate the impact their actions have on the behaviors of their employees.
  4. Start from the top. All successful change management initiatives start at the top with a committed and well-aligned leadership team.  Make sure each member of the leadership team agrees with the case for change and the plan for implementing it.
  5. Repeat.  As a marketer, you must have heard of the ‘rule of seven’.  It’s the idea that people need to see your marketing message seven times before they take action. (Actually, research has shown that the number ranges from five to twelve).  The concept is even more important when dealing with an organizational change effort.  Constant communication is needed to ensure that every step of the change process is in line with the plan and there are no relapses to the old way of doing things.
  6. Assess.  Many times, we are all eager to claim success once the change initiative is over and the plan is complete.  But this robs the team from vital feedback and zaps satisfaction of a job well done.  Once all the pieces are in place, be sure to close out the initiative by asking team members and employees what worked and what didn’t work.  This feeds morale by celebrating accomplishments and starts building a knowledgebase for the next time a change is needed.

Over the past 50 years, change management or organizational change management has evolved into its own very distinct discipline.  I’m not going to pretend one 1,000-word blog post is going to give you everything you need to know to effectively adopt change throughout your organization.  But I do hope it causes you to take a second look at the technologies and tools you are considering bringing into your organization and evaluate the implications they have on your people, strategies and the way in which work gets done.