The phrase “sea change” finds its roots in the Shakespearean play, “The Tempest”, written in about 1610. In the play, the character Ariel, a spirit, sings a song that describes the transformation of a man who has drowned. She says his body doesn’t fade away but rather undergoes “a sea-change into something rich and strange.”
Today, if you look up the phrase “sea change” you’ll find that in the modern English language it refers to a transformation or a paradigm shift. After the events of 2020, the political shifts, the social justice movements, and the sweeping impacts of a global pandemic, it’s not surprising that many people and businesses are significantly changing the usual way they’ve thought or operated, replacing it with something new and different.
But how do you make it stick? How do you prevent your genuine sea change from being treated like a temporary madness, or a knee-jerk reaction to current events? How do you support lasting and positive change, in your business?
Communication about a change is critically important. It supports transparency, which stabilizes relationships with employees, partners, vendors, and clients, and secures greater buy-in for change. But one fact about communication that is frequently overlooked or ignored is that it is bi-directional. Listening is a key component of communication.
One of the rookie mistakes I’ve made in the past is either not asking for feedback about a coming change or formulating my response while that feedback is being communicated. In other words, treating the ask for feedback as a checkmark on a box while plowing ahead with what I wanted to do regardless.
It’s true that some are resistant to change, and, at minimum, will remain doubtful about it. But there is no harm in hearing their concerns and being open that change is coming, here’s why change is coming, here are the benefits we hope to reap from that change, and THEN asking what, if any, concerns or issues they see in the change and how those could be addressed.
Then, for credibility and integrity, try to adopt or adapt some of the suggestions for improvement coming from your detractors, and give them credit. Again, demonstrate that you are listening. You won’t sway everyone. You may come to a parting of the ways with some. Such is the nature of paradigm shifts. But for those who remain on board, there will be greater respect, loyalty, and positive energy to fuel the transformation.
Now, I struggle a lot with my mom on this one. She worked in the government public policy arena for decades. Government-speak and regulatory-talk are her jam. I’m always calling her on it. “Mom, normal people don’t speak like that.” But normal people in her backyard do. What’s perfectly clear to her is a foreign language requiring interpretation for me.
But now that she’s a member of my team, she’s been calling me on the issue of clarity. My marketing language, which works when I’m in direct communication with other businesses and other agencies in the same wheelhouse but leaves her looking puzzled. Although many of the businesses I work with understand the purpose, the direction, and the words I select, in working with new businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations, am I speaking with clarity, using words and actions that are generally understood?
You must ask yourself the same question. Is there clarity in your speech, written communications, and, importantly, in your plans? Is it clear WHY you are doing something different now? It’s obvious to you but is it obvious to everyone in your stakeholder community. And, once having explained it and clarified it, are you documenting that information so that it doesn’t change.
Often businesses fail in their transformations because the direction, the path forward, the big WHY is not uniformly understood, it’s not clear. It has nothing to do with intelligence or education, but largely to do with environment, experience, and perception. To overcome that kind of interference, be clear in your communications and plans. Use illustrations, and charts, and infographics to bolster information for those who learn visually. Remove the mystery from your words, actions, and vision to be more inclusive and to make lasting change possible.
Now that we are committed to communicating and doing so with clarity, let’s make sure we provide just the amount of information necessary for each audience to take the appropriate action. That means recognizing there are levels of complexity that are fit for various roles in your business, and not fit for others.
For example, everyone doesn’t need to know how the technology works. Some need to know what inputs to make, what outputs to expect, and how to use them. Others may need to know the contact information for the person responsible for making those inputs and others may need to know what to do with the outputs. Some need to know about the server that maintains the software and how much memory is used. But everyone doesn’t need to know everything. It all needs to be documented and available and in the language of the individual who uses it, but you can begin with a simple overview document with graphics and point to the more elaborate explanation as an attachment, addendum, or reference.
The same goes for your advertising, your social media posts, your internal and external memos. How much information is enough to meet your goals and objectives for that target audience for this leg of our transformational journey? Once I’ve described the path forward, how much detail, at what point in time, and using what kind of language, is necessary to support the transformation with my various stakeholders?
This may require you to ask your audience (or a few of them, anyway), and then provide them the information they need at the intervals that make sense to them. Too much extraneous information can be a change-breaker. It’s our job as leaders to protect others from unnecessary complexity. We’re the boss of the company, the division, the unit, or the function. Everyone doesn’t need to know all that we know, all at once. But what do they need to know to get on board, to create new products and processes, to build and sustain existing relationships and cultivate new ones, to do their job in the new paradigm, and ultimately what do they need to know to become agents of change throughout the change management process?
To be clear, in a transformation, things change. Duh, right? But what should not change is our approach, our attitude, our values, our commitment to communicating with clarity and conciseness…You get it. But consistency means the same application of these things at all levels and in all situations.
To the extent legally and ethically possible, if transparency is the way I operate, I should be transparent on Monday when everything was going well, I should be transparent on Wednesday when things went south, and I should be transparent on Friday when things were turned around and heading in the right direction.
Being consistent is particularly important during a change management effort because it signals that all is under control. Change is by nature, chaotic. But how we manage it is key. Taming a wild horse is chaotic. But there is an approach, an environment, a skilled worker who manages that chaos effectively to achieve a positive outcome. Horse in, and horse out. The circumstances (or your horse) may be wildly different, but the way we manage it is consistent.
The value of signaling that we are managing the change is that it inspires confidence and calm in those who are key to carrying out the transformation. The stakeholders in your community need to be free to perform as needed with full confidence so that they can fully achieve the goals and positive outcomes of the change you seek. Consistency is a calming influence in a sea change, that signals that you are fully capable of pulling this off, of transformational change to new levels of excellence.Often, transformational change takes you to places you’ve never been before. You’ve seen others do it, and do it well, or collapse and fold in a pool of failure. You’ve done the rethinking, you’ve created a fantastic plan, but what if? If you are committed to change, pulling the plug isn’t the answer, although that’s probably your safe place. When you create your plan, include a plan for contingencies.
One approach is to create multiple scenarios—worst case, best case, and most likely—and think through in advance what you would do in each case. Then look at how each scenario impacts your plan—outcomes, timing, costs, partners, vendors, clients. You’ll be conducting a mini-SWOTT analysis for each scenario. At the end of the day, you need to be prepared to act should one of your scenarios come to fruition.
Having thought out in advance, with no pressure on your doorstep, what the contingencies would be for each situation, gives you the advantage if the worst or best case comes to fruition. Let’s say you get that overwhelming surge in business, far greater than you initially planned for. That’s a good thing, right? Only if you can act swiftly to get resources in place to fulfill the demand. You are more likely to be able to act swiftly if you’ve thought about the steps and resources that would be necessary in advance.
Planning for contingencies is smart business—for your personal life, as well as for your change management process. Most of the time, you cannot fully control the external environment. You can only control your response to it. The timelier your response can be put in place, the more effective it is likely to be in addressing the impacts of the unexpected. So, the rule of thumb: Expect and plan for the unexpected in advance to support the successful completion of your change management process. Plan for contingencies—both positive and negative—when failure is not an option.
Are you ready to make that change—and manage it—in your small business or start-up? CSD Marketing and Consulting is ready to support you! Click below to contact a strategist to start a conversation about the future.
In the meantime, here’s a little contribution from my soundtrack for personal, transformational change…And besides, seeing Dolly Parton in a gospel choir makes me smile.