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Change Management Lessons From the Social Media Revolution

 “Change is hard and few organisations master it. At best only 30 per cent of such efforts succeed…” Harvard Business Review Accelerating Change, 2012 If this quote is true, it’s a sobering thought that the odds are firmly stacked against successful change. And it’s no wonder so many managers are wary of embarking upon change projects. Unfortunately, standing still isn’t feasible in today’s environment, writes Ivan Seselj, CEO of Promapp.

Competitors are continually improving their products, service and processes, and technologies regularly disrupt entire industries. Somewhere in the last fifty years, change has become an inevitable part of the everyday business landscape. Which means the question for managers now is not “Should we change?” but, “How can we successfully navigate change?”

It might initially sound like a bit of a stretch, but organisations that want to develop a process culture and that are sincerely seeking process improvement, could do a lot worse than examine the rise of social media. Two decades ago, nobody had heard of social media or social networking.

Today, it’s omnipresent. Social has become part of how we learn, how we share and how we communicate. We’ve completely changed the nature of business-to-consumer and business-to-business interaction. As a case study in managing change, social media rules. Imagine if organisations could tap into the techniques that have brought about the social media revolution and if you could find a way to capture the collective imagination the way social media does.

Surprisingly, a study of successful social media campaigns shows there are really only five essential actions that have helped to usher in some of the biggest communications changes in history.

1. Establish a sense of urgency.

Stories explode on social media because they grab attention. There’s a sense of immediacy and freshness; of news being shared as it happens. Because of this, social communications frequently feel more emotive than traditional communications channels. The best tweets and Facebook posts manage to convey the enthusiasm, excitement or sometimes concern of the moment.

The overall effect is to draw the reader in. People become eager to follow the story, wanting to learn what happens next. Unfortunately, whether dealing with social media or change projects, too many companies assume their customers, staff or business partners automatically recognise the urgency of the situation, so they skip this step entirely. What they don’t realise is that as soon as they lose the sense of immediacy, the impact of their actions is lessened.

2. Helpful information works Networks such as Facebook and YouTube are easy, informative and likeable.

Above all, they are rewarding. People of all skill levels can find the information they are after. That’s why so many people go back to social media networks again and again. Compare this to process improvement projects and the accompanying documentation that organisations have been producing over the past few decades. Formal spreadsheets and charts or procedure manuals written in hard-to-understand language are not inviting. Worse still, simply finding those documents can be an almost impossible task in some companies.

Organisations that want to establish a culture of improvement need to stop pushing people away from information. They must make their processes simple, useful and accessible to all, so the processes can be adopted, applied every day and improved. The quest for improvement has already caused many organisations to unlock their process knowledge.

Rather than hiding information away in files that are never referred to, they maintain process documentation in a central location. They present it in an easy-to-view and understand format, like a well designed website. In these organisations, process knowledge is captured with the same level of simplicity and helpfulness that is found on social networks. As a result, employees are engaged in process conversation and are therefore far more likely to volunteer improvement ideas and suggestions.

3. Shareable content One key reason social media has such a high participation rate is its shareable content.

It’s easy to send the information to friends, colleagues and partners, and to embed content from other sites and other networks. Hence the rise of viral content over the past decade. If content strikes the right note, it will be shared over and over again. How can this lesson be applied to processes? History has taught us that people won’t come running to your processes, so it’s time to take the processes to them. Use the wealth of technologies now available to present information in rich, engaging formats. Do you have a well-visited intranet?

A wiki that team collaborate on or certain systems that teams need to use every day? Share process know-how from the places that teams already visit. Make your knowledge mobile, accessible and shareable. Then monitor where, when and how your users are accessing the data to learn what your teams prefer.

4. Personalise process Interaction is another core success factor feeding the social media revolution.

Users like to personalise their experience by interacting with sites – such as leaving comments on a Trademe trade, hitting LIKE on Facebook, or making a COMMENT on a TripAdvisor review. Users get to feel part of what’s going on, they contribute and become more engaged. The more they use the network, the more engaged they become. By applying these same techniques to conversations with process owners, and collaboration amongst teams, we tap into this human behaviour and the challenge of change. We can connect, comment, respond, collaborate and even disagree, to constantly evolve processes.

Surprisingly, a study of successful social media campaigns shows there are really only five essential actions that have helped to usher in some of the biggest communications changes in history.

5. Process governance is essential

There’s no point grabbing attention then disappearing. This is as true for social media as it is for process improvement. Change is about the long game. As noted at the beginning of this article, starting with a sense of urgency is important, but it has to be maintained. A culture of change, improvement, of ‘smart process’ is an ongoing attitude, not something that can be achieved and then forgotten. This means meeting and publicising milestones, and demonstrating success stories coming from change projects. Business process management teams should track and communicate the business value they are delivering on an ongoing basis.

Dealing with disruption

Social media and the Internet have disrupted traditional communications and individuals and organisations have adapted, and changed their behaviour as a result. Change and business process management projects can learn a lot from social media. Driving change within an organisation is undoubtedly difficult and requires overcoming the natural tendency towards inertia, and our reluctance to move on from the comfort zone of old methods.

By generating a buzz, creating enthusiasm, inspiring and involving people, and maintaining momentum, change is not only possible – it can also be very successful.

Ivan Seselj is the founder and CEO of Promapp Solutions, a Deloitte Asia Pacific Tech Fast 500 company. With a finance and internal audit background, and extensive experience in business process improvement roles across a diverse range of organisations and industries, Ivan has helped hundreds of organisations around the world develop and foster a positive improvement culture.

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