Strategic employee communications that
lead companies through transformation

Make your transformation stick with a persuasive change narrative

Change is a more accelerated, pervasive, and necessary part of today’s business landscape than ever. In fact, according to Accenture’s Pulse of Change 2024 Index, the rate of change impacting organizations has skyrocketed by nearly 200% over the past four years — and by 33% in 2023 alone. At the same time, just over half of C-suite leaders admit they aren’t fully prepared to manage the torrent of change headed their way in 2024. 

Organizational change is challenging for everyone involved. As McKinsey & Company famously reported, a full 70% of change initiatives fail. And the reason for this sobering failure rate isn’t a lack of budget. Rather, it stems from challenges related to people, such as resistance and fatigue associated with change. 

So what can you do to foster sustained adoption and make sure your next transformational initiative winds up in the coveted 30% success camp? 

Why most company change initiatives fail

Mary Shelley (yes, that Mary Shelley) articulated a universal human truth when she wrote, “nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” 

So why do most change initiatives fail? In some ways, it’s as simple as Mary Shelley’s observation: Change is hard and potentially painful. But the nitty-gritty details of how most organizational change initiatives fail is more nuanced than that. 

In most cases, your transformational project could get derailed by: 

  • Skepticism and/or minimal information about the value of the proposed change. 
  • Low confidence stemming from a history of unsuccessful or unfinished change initiatives in the organization.
  • Lack of enablement in the form of tools, training, and other resources.
  • Change fatigue as your initiative wears on (or in the wake of rapid-fire change across the organization).
  • Lack of support from mid-level managers (this tier of leadership is the most likely to put on the brakes — and influence others to do the same).
  • Insufficient organizational change expertise on the part of “accidental change agents” (aka initiative-sponsoring leaders for whom change is not a full-time job).
  • An unconvincing or uncompelling change narrative that fails to address stakeholder impact.
  • A lack of clear, empathetic, action-inspiring internal communications that support the change narrative and guide team members through all stages of the Change Curve. 

While some of these failure triggers relate to issues with proper resourcing and organizational change management best practices, most of them speak to the way your internal stakeholders feel. To increase likelihood for successful change adoption, you must capture the hearts and minds of the people in your organization to ensure they want to come along for the journey. 

How strategic change communications stem the tide of internal resistance 

People experience organizational change as inconvenient at best — and disruptive or even livelihood-threatening at worst. Resistance is a natural, protective, and inevitable byproduct. It’s how you respond to that resistance that matters. 

The good news is that you can break down internal resistance and win over skeptical stakeholders with smart change communications (paired with a rock-solid change plan). 

Data supports the value of this approach. Strategic change communications drive buy-in and investment. And change is 30% more likely to stick when people are truly invested. Unfortunately, according to research by Gallup, a meager 13% of U.S. employees think their leadership teams communicate effectively, and just 15% say leadership instills a feeling of enthusiasm about the future

Your first step? Collaborate across internal stakeholder groups to co-create a persuasive change narrative. 

What is a change narrative?

A change narrative is the foundational story you and other leaders tell your team about a new change and why it matters.

Your change narrative forms the backbone of your change communications strategy. All other communications you develop as part of your strategy should cascade from and support your core narrative.  

To be convincing and inspiring, your change narrative must: 

  • Communicate the authentic and compelling “why” behind the change
  • Address key pain points and motivators
  • Paint an attractive future-state vision your team will want to rally around

With so many lofty boxes to check, your leadership team can’t develop a change narrative in a vacuum. It must be co-created with the help of key constituents representing the various interests within your organization. 

How to co-create a compelling change narrative that drives buy-in and compliance

Take the following steps to collaboratively craft a resistance-melting change narrative. 

1. Define the “why” behind your change

By the time you start working on a change narrative, you’ve probably already made the decision to embark on a new initiative. However, the business case that served as your rationale for the change isn’t the same as your company-facing “why.” For example, “increasing profit” isn’t inspiring — especially if your change will mean layoffs or other challenges for on-the-ground employees who must help implement it. 

Many failed change initiatives start with the failure to define a compelling and relatable “why.” No amount of smart, empathetic communications can plug that hole. 

2. Conduct a change impact analysis 

A change impact analysis tells you who will be affected by a change and how. This gives you insight into where you’re likely to see the most resistance.

Remember, resistance is natural, and it doesn’t just come out of thin air. People aren’t generally trying to be difficult. More often, it’s that they don’t have the necessary vision or information needed to move forward.  

3. Work with your people to identify challenges and benefits 

The change impact analysis gives you important clues about the challenges your people may face. But what about the reality of how they will actually be impacted? That needs to come directly from your team. 

Create two-way lines of communication with each stakeholder group to empathetically listen to and understand their concerns. Then, ensure they’re part of the process of defining the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) benefits. The more ownership stakeholders have in this process, the more likely they are to perceive the benefits and buy into the change. 

As you identify representatives from each group, focus on tapping internal influencers — the natural leaders other team members already look up to and take cues from. Additionally, be sure to select some people with a reputation for thoughtful dissent. Not only do these naysayers have the potential to offer a lot of wisdom, but you’ll also face a much bigger challenge down the road if you fail to win them over.  

4. Develop an integrated change narrative 

Once you have a sense of the stakeholder-by-stakeholder challenges and benefits, it’s time to weave those elements into an integrated change narrative. 

Of course, your points of emphasis will differ as you amplify the value of the change up and down the chain. For instance, your fellow executives will be most interested in the numbers, while down-chain employees will want to hear that their work matters, that they’re making an impact, and that the change will help them in some meaningful way. 

This doesn’t mean talking out of both sides of your mouth. You must find a way to elevate what matters to each group while delivering a sincere, integrated narrative that offers transparency to all parties. 

Seed the success of your next big project 

A co-created change narrative is the key to unlocking a smart change communications strategy with the power to win your team’s hearts and minds — and fuel the success of your initiative. 

Need help developing a won’t-fail change narrative to support your can’t-fail project? Pivot Strategies can help.

About the Author

Alexandra RudigCommunications Consultant

With substantial experience in IT communications, crisis comms, mergers and acquisitions and executive training, Ali brings expert strategies and innovative creativity to her communications work. Her industry experience spans healthcare, logistics, oil, IT and nonprofits. Ali’s love for people and desire to be a leader in using communications for connections and growth continues to drive her passion for communications. She is most passionate about recognizing the power of communications to create a world of transparency and enablement across organizations.

Connect with Alexandra Rudig on LinkedIn →

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