I'm changing. Just saying that out loud can be a very empowering. The catch is that we all love to retain as much flexibility as we can get while we transition from one situation to another. It's just human nature.
It's easy for clients making a digital transformation to resist change, too—to focus on what they don’t want to change as opposed to what they must change. That's a major mistake. It seems more like trying to control the change instead of embracing it. Embracing change often helps accelerate the acceptance that is required to actually make a significant transformation.
The most successful change agents create a vision of a desired end state in their client’s minds, never allowing them long for the old ways or to look wistfully backwards. We’ve all had clients who can’t make the leap to the lifeboat from the sinking ship that brought about the need to transform in the first place. That situation leads to disastrous outcomes where the current process/system (the sinking ship) is further degraded by the mere knowledge there will be a new process/system (the lifeboat) to replace it eventually. Yet, that new system will be so overburdened by trying to satisfy the old methods that it can’t help but fail to delight anyone either.
This is the contradiction at the heart of most change paradigms. Technologically speaking, one such paradigm is the process of moving from a linear, page-based content management system (CMS) to something more modular and scalable. For example, Sitecore or SDL Tridion migrations are generally moves from page-based to completely different model for structuring digital content. It can be done, but it won’t maximize the inherent power of the modular CMS either. By trying to map old business processes to a new technology, businesses fail to truly change.
What then should a good consultant do if he or she has a client who is resisting the very change that they signed up for? Often, at this point, the best option is to reframe the information rather than educating the client. In that sense, simple storytelling can be a great way of looking at the same info we already know in a different way. Think back to Shakespeare. He never concocted a story in his life. All of his masterworks were adaptations of other authors' existing works. What makes them uniquely Shakespeare, however, are the truths and perspectives he brought to those extant narratives. That is, he brought new meaning to established storylines to get the audience (us) to change how we see things. The same applies to consulting.
One of my clients was hyper-focused on maintaining business process while “transforming” their digital presence. We knew this would hamstring their strategic efforts down the line. In the end, we simply illustrated how their business processes, if left unchanged, would actually compromise their desired end state of scalability and nimbleness. How did we illustrate it? We created a process document that highlighted the disconnect between the author’s process (page-based HTML blobs) and the content model that was built to support their desired, content end-state. This allowed them to share their content with all of the associated systems (social media, CRM, etc.) instead of locking it in their new system with the old way of managing it.
So, rather than trying to convince a stubborn client, try repositioning the narrative around the scope of change required:
- Logic – Detail the facts of the current state versus the end state. The facts that drove your clients to take on this challenge should suffice to reignite the enthusiasm to get to the desired end state. This might be a compare / contrast (pro-con) table or even a one-page essay.
- Passion – Become an evangelist. Share (or, more likely, reshare) the viewpoint about how much better things will work in the new process. This may involve getting sponsors active, some kind of event or something really out-of-the-box to help spur enthusiasm, like a funny video or comic book story.
- Value – Talk about the potential gains. The cheaper resource costs, time to market, etc. This could involve fact sheets, process maps, cost benefit analysis, etc.
In the end, there may be more at play than simply a lack of inspiration / motivation on the client’s part, and that could require a more robust change management action plan. Sometimes, however, all that’s needed is to just repackage the already valid information into something fresh or applicable to spur the change agency needed to get where you’re going.