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The truth is most planned change fails. By failure, I mean the project did not finish as quickly as planned, it cost too much, or it failed to deliver the projected benefits. The main culprit however usually isn't poor decision making about the main parts of the project. Most of the time, the reason is poor communication and people-related skills. The importance of communication begins right at the beginning when pitching and selling the need for change. Here's where many leaders make a classic mistake. They lead with dry facts and figures.
The business case for change, and it's all logical and uninspiring. Nearly all successful change is launched with emotional appeals first, and then facts and figures to follow. Using emotional appeals is a powerful way to gain attention and makes the main points stick in people's minds, without actually using many words or bits of data. Let me make this point by using a quick story. There was a manager of a manufacturing facility, a facility that produces some type of industrial widget. Most of their customers loved their products, but over the last year, the president had received negative feedback from one particularly large customer.
The product they made didn't quite meet the customer's needs and that forced the customer to make modifications on their end. But their team lacked the needed expertise, causing all sorts of problems. One day the customer called and suggested he might take his business elsewhere. During the conversation, the president realized that changing how they made the product, just a little, will be all that is required to meet the customer's needs. After the call, the president shared this information with the team of employees who make the product in question.
Problem solved. Not quite. One month later, the phone rang again. It was the same customer dealing with the same problem. The president goes to talk to the team, and they explained they determined it wasn't worth the extra time. The customer kept buying, so why waste more time on our end? So all the president explained the numbers to them, how nice the margin is on the sale of this widget. How many widgets the customer in question has been buying, and so on. The team didn't seem to be moved. The president realized he could threaten them to do what he told them to do, but then he realized, there was a better way.
One month later, he called his team into the conference room between shifts. They didn't know why there was a meeting. In the front of the room sat a large television. When everyone was seated, he pressed play. On the screen, the upset customer appeared. Everyone knows who he is. He started by saying thanks for doing business with me for so long, but then he confided that he's not sure if he can continue. He told the group his business is growing and he'd like to increase the size of his order, but he's having second thoughts about doing business with them.
He then took the team on a quick video tour of his facilities and introduced the key players on his team. He took the time to show them exactly what happens when they fail to properly modify the part he purchases. It creates unneeded down time and gets into areas of expertise they don't possess. He finished by assembling his whole team. Then he looked into the camera and said he wanted to continue growing his business and supporting their jobs, but he needed help. He said, you guys can make the part I need. In which case, I'll be thrilled to continue supporting your jobs.
Or, I'll start next quarter working with your competition to find the exact product I need. When the video ended, the team looked a little bothered. They looked a small bit embarrassed or maybe ashamed. The president was about to make his latest positive plea to the team, but he didn't have to. The foremen in the group stood up and announced that moving forward, they would find a solution in the production schedule, to allow extra time to make that customer a special order. No one argued. The next quarter, they shipped precisely what the customer needed.
Examples like this happen all the time when enlightened leaders remember to occasionally use emotion as much as they use dry facts and figures. Take my advice and look over the projects you're running. Find a few opportunities to use video. A picture, or maybe a story, so that you can emotionally grab them. That's when real change is possible.
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