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Julia Vellmete

Destination: Ready for a surprise?

“Pack your suitcase, meet me at the airport at 12”. What a cool idea! If you’re an adventurous traveler like me, you’ll be happy to hear a phrase like that, sprint home and get packing for any eventuality: passport, bikini for the beach, hiking boots for outdoor events and a party outfit for the club. Voilà – I’m ready to go! The rest I can buy (almost) anywhere in the world. And despite all the adventurousness, it takes a great deal of trust in my counterpart for me to get on board – without a destination and rough itinerary and, above all, without a say in the matter. But go ahead. Just do it – it could turn out great!

If we transfer this story to the topic of transformation, things are a bit different. Transformation is a process; we all agree on that. But did you know that for employees, transformation often feels more like a trip with an undetermined or even unknown destination with little opportunity to help shape the itinerary or exchange ideas with the trip organizer? Anyone who has experienced, lived through or even initiated a transformation in recent years will remember that the topic of communication in transformation in particular was a perennial issue with a high potential for pain.

Even for experienced communicators, it is no easy task to turn those affected into active participants, who not only support the transformation, but also help shape it. Bear in mind that no one voluntarily gets on an airplane without knowing where they are headed or having the opportunity to pack a few necessary items to go on an adventure together first.

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Employees: But how do you fill your plane?

There are now enough studies to show that the majority of transformation and change projects fail and that poorly managed communication is a major contributory factor. But it could be so simple: as soon as transformation initiators understand the importance of communication as a success factor and plan modern, sustainable change communication, they will take the organizations on the journey in a completely different way. What does it take? Clarity about the transformation strategy and a clear definition of the transformation goal.

From our point of view, modern change communication is planned like an integrated campaign with milestones, several flights and a longer running time and carries the goal and essential elements of the transformation strategy in a way that is accessible, simple and, above all, can be experienced. From our experience, however, one aspect is essential: transformation is above all about people, because they are at the heart of every transformation success. But what is the best way to reach people? With stories, because stories are deeply rooted in us.

With this approach in mind, we apply transformation strategies and new goals to the development of change communication strategy: pain points of audiences are evaluated, relevant messages for all affected audiences are defined, stories are created, communication formats and experiences are developed, and channels and contact frequency are defined in a roll-out plan for a designated period of time. Every change communication is different and highly customized to the organization facing the transformation process. And the change communications strategy is the communications agenda that transformation leaders and communicators ideally follow.

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Experience: And what does a traveler talk about?

About his personal experiences and emotional highlights, of course. And how everyone got along, which challenges they had to face, and of course about the parties. That’s the stuff good travel stories are made of. Or has anyone ever told you about the view of the Manhattan skyline for hours and only briefly mentioned the great evening at the impro theater in Brooklyn, where at the end the bartender locked up behind him and the other fellow travelers?

Experience is an important component in transformation projects – frontal presentations of corporate strategies and long key notes by corporate leaders are no longer in keeping with the times and, in our experience, tend to achieve the opposite. It is important to consider how to motivate employees through their own experiences with the transformation process and to accelerate the process so that they feel more quickly like co-creators and actively drive the transformation forward.

Experiences, like all communication, are developed from the perspective of employees and are based on the concept of customer experience, in which above all positive and emotional experiences are associated with the brand. And it is precisely this experience approach with positive and emotional experiences that can also be applied to communication in transformation processes. At selected, strategically important milestones, experiences are used as an important signal and highlight, e.g., to create an emotional and approachable experience in the first contact with the transformation at the kick-off or to achieve emotional experiences and ongoing engagement through co-creation. There are no limits to the imagination and the effort is worth it, because these experiences will remain in the memory of employees for a long time and have a lasting impact on the transformation. But experiences are not everything. In addition to experience highlights, basic communication on the progress of the transformation with a mix of push and pull components via various channels has an important task in keeping the transformation teams always up to date and creating a central place where every employee can get information. But again, the solution is individual and depends on the organization and the people to be transformed.

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Procedure: Ever planned a journey for others?

People are more likely to go along with a transformation if they realize that they are important in this change and are asked to help shape it. Therefore, our recommendation for successful change communication is that managers and communicators of the transformation follow the set communication agenda in a coordinated manner or adapt it dynamically to new circumstances together. But also, that each transformation team actively and with interest engages in exchange with employees. The goal in any change communication should be to give transparency, clarity and direction to the people in the organization and to listen.

And to conclude our journey story: Anyone who has ever organized a trip for others knows that it takes energy and imagination to plan all of the major milestones and serve expectations of fellow travelers. But most of all, they know that running a trip takes a lot of patience to manage all the contingencies and needs that inevitably arise when traveling together, and it takes an incredible amount of communication to keep travel spirits consistently high. Sounds almost like the job of a transformer, doesn’t it?

About the Author
Julia Vellmete is Director Strategy Brand Experience at Avantgarde. She is an analytical and conceptually strong communications strategist with a focus on holistic brand experience. She develops customer-oriented, cross-media solutions with added value for B2C, B2B or Employer to generate growth, create loyalty or accompany organisations in their transformation.

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