This is the second in a Two-Part post on Marketing and Organizational Change.  It features  Scott Marticke, a highly seasoned and experienced marketing executive who has given a great deal of thought to organizational change, and has experience in using the lens of marketing to drive business change results.

Scott, welcome back to my blog!  In Part 1, you told us a scary but familiar scenario of failed organizational change.  How would the use of a marketing plan and related tools and disciplines have led to a different approach and a more desirable outcome?

Organizational Change: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

SCOTT:  I’ll give you a good example, recently completed by one of our partners. A major energy provider on the west coast, battered by the Enron scandal and other publicity issues, had engaged a well known change consultant.  Again, the consultancy recommended a laundry list of activities for the reorganization. This time, a marketing expert was brought in to manage the internal communications.  He built a marketing plan for the reorganization.  Out of this, he was granted access to all staff levels and spent several weeks interviewing and assessing attitudes. One important factor – he was armed with the knowledge of the change recommendations and was able to gauge how those recommendations would resonate with the employees.

His dialogue (and it was a true ‘dialogue’ rather than one-way messaging) led to the discovery that some of the preconceived notions about the change were wrong.   For example, some aspects of the reorganization were redundant, just not needed.  Other aspects would be gladly adopted and still others would be more effective if slightly altered.  Don’t get me wrong, this was a complex communications process but in the end it produced a much more realistic reorganization, one that had the support of the entire organization.  It had the support of the C-suite, which was absolutely critical in ensuring success, because it allowed a third party to enter the process without any preconceived notions.  And, by the way, it led to the discovery of a new internal and external company branding – one, which ultimately boosted the company’s image.

VAUGHAN:  You mentioned “preconceived notions” and I think this is an important point.  From my experience, architects of change are inclined to make certain assumptions without adequately testing those assumptions.  An important aspect of marketing is testing assumptions like this.  Could you expand on this notion?

SCOTT:  In any “change environment” there are a number of non-neutral constituencies.  Management is certainly not neutral; after all they are investing a lot of money and time and the future of the organization.  The consulting company is not neutral. They have a significant fee and a corporate reputation at stake in providing a complex change that the engaging management and board feel will be: a) effective, and b) worth the money spent on the plan.

Using marketing techniques to create a flow between your product (change) and the consumer (your constituents) will uncover useful information, just as a deep and up-to-date knowledge of the consumer will often lead to important corrections and adjustments in their brand and product marketing.

VAUGHAN:  Great point!  So exactly what disciplines of marketing would you use to facilitate this change communication?

Web 2.0, Social Networks, and the New Tools for Change

SCOTT:  First and foremost, it would be knowledge of what marketing is and how it has evolved, especially with the onset of interactive communications, social networking, and Web 2.0.  For example, while the proven staples of the four P’s or push/pull marketing are still valid, a number of savvy marketers have come to realize that the marketer is not in control of the brand as in years before.  Some marketers have gone as far as stating that the consumer is now in charge of determining the brand.  This is not as far fetched as it sounds.  When bloggers or other individuals can exercise as much or more influence than a marketing department with a huge budget, then certainly the playing field has changed.

Now think of your employees or other impacted stakeholders as the consumer of your planned change.  You have brand advocates, detractors, neutrals and influencers in each of these areas.  Your constituents encompass all of these ranges to varying degrees.  Some will be vocal, some will be insidious and some will be up for grabs.  It is to the benefit of successful change that you, as the “marketer,” have as much intelligence on these consumers as possible.  This will allow for the right messages at the right time with the right constituents; the right protective or proactive steps to be taken; when to lead and when to listen.  Even in the best of times the C-suite is often isolated in regards to the ruminations of their employees.  Change mode tends to segregate even further.

As the degree of each change varies from company to company and as the effects of change impact individuals and groups differently, each assignment needs to be considered unique.  There are tools such as polling and prediction markets that can measure that uniqueness; research tools that can determine the extent of the social networks operating within an organization; identify the aforementioned advocates, detractors, influencers, etc.  It then becomes our job to think and work creatively to develop the right messaging.

Another consideration is the ability to think and work nimbly.  Rarely does a significant change occur in a vacuum.  It is not a linear process, and unseen dynamics will surely come into play.  That could happen in the form of an offhand comment on the factory floor, a rumor put forth in a blog or an errant email.  (Simple training on email do’s and don’ts would have saved a major ad agency a lot of headaches this past fall when the HR director inadvertently emailed a management report on layoffs to all the global staff!)

VAUGHAN:  Not to come off as too self-serving, but you seem to be implying that a 3rd party marketing specialist is an important part of getting this right.  Can you defend that position?

SCOTT:  Organizations need to contract a third party to aid in their change communications for the same reason that they hire a consulting firm to determine what “change” is needed in the first place.  It’s also why they hire an outside ad agency or PR firm to assist in their traditional marketing.  First, they need to stay focused on their core business.  That is essential in any market, especially so in this economic climate.   Second, this is a creative process that very often uncovers and assuages issues that an organization fails to find or in some cases chooses to ignore in favor of keeping to a timeline or an out-of-date script.  Often the organization will turn to their current vendors, ad agencies, PR firms, to assist in developing and communicating the change process.  As I mentioned previously in many cases, these organizations may be part of the change.  They are therefore given information on a “need-to-know” basis or it’s filtered down through management levels.  The resulting efforts are bound to be flawed.  There is also the frequently overlooked issue of competitiveness between the communications partners.  I wouldn’t discount this as it comes up more often than not.  Sometimes the client encourages this, other times it’s a jockeying for position behind the scenes.  At worst the result may be mixed or poor messaging, the spreading of rumors. At best it’s an inefficient use of your time and money.

VAUGHAN:  I’m also hearing that access to the C-Suite is an important factor here?

SCOTT:  Absolutely!  Remember, the role of the marketing specialist in building the change marketing plan and shaping the messaging must be neutral when it comes to the change implementation; our goal is to discover and interpret; to determine how the change can be best communicated and discover and address hidden roadblocks.  Of course this can lead to some interesting revelations that might impact the change, as I referenced in the energy company example.  As a neutral entity, we are not hesitant to recommend a change in course when it would be beneficial.

To sum it up, organizations invest vast amounts of time and money in the change process.  So often they skip the critical step, understanding their most important market(s).  Receptiveness to organizational change is necessary in order to keep up with evolving technologies, economic uncertainties and shifting global markets.   Marketing that change correctly will become an integral part of the change process. I think organizations are beginning to understand the benefits of integrating the marketing step.

VAUGHAN:  Scott, thank you very much for your time, and for sharing your insight on this important topic.  And if you don’t have internal marketing expertise (or if that expertise is going to be part of the change!)  I’m sure, Scott, that you’d be ready and willing to offer your services.  Here’s how to reach Scott:

Scott Marticke
Marticke Associates, LLC
Roswell, Georgia