Some changes are bigger than others. Moving your company from one content management system to another is a major undertaking, whereas changing the office toilet paper from one-ply to two-ply is relatively straightforward (and probably unanimously supported by your team).

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But all change requires some finesse on the part of management if you want to see lasting improvement.

On this episode of Marketing Smarts, I talk with MarketingProfs Trust Insights CEO Katie Robbert about her five-step process to successful change management.

The 5 Ps of Change Management, according to Katie, are purpose, people, process, platform, and performance. We delve into each one in the course of this conversation, and Katie shares concrete examples of how to apply the concepts at your organization so you can become a change management master!

Fun Fact: Katie co-founded Trust Insights with our MarketingProfs consulting practice lead for analytics and measurement, Christopher Penn! 

Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

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Full Transcript: Communication Is the Key to Better Change Management Outcomes


Kerry O'Shea Gorgone:
Welcome to the Marketing Smarts Podcast. I'm joined today by Katie Robbert, CEO and cofounder of Trust Insights. Thanks for joining, Katie.

Katie Robbert: Thanks for having me, Kerry. I always love my time talking with you, so this is fun for me.

Kerry: You're so funny. Thank you. I feel the same way. We always end up laughing so hard that we cry. Although, we'll see if that happens while we're talking about change management.

Katie: We might. We might not cry laughing, we might just cry.

Kerry: We might just cry. I've had people sort of chuckle when we raise change management as a topic that they should be thinking about, something that maybe you'd want to address even through training or through educational resources. They're like, "You just roll with the punches." Not a great approach.

Katie: Not a great approach at all. That's actually a lot of what I've been teaching. I recently did a four-hour workshop through Women in Analytics teaching about change management. What I'm really trying to do is change the conversation in terms of what change management is. There's this perception that if you bring in a change management consultant they just kind of poke apart everything that's wrong, drop a whole bunch of stuff that you have to now do, and then walk away.

Change management in general kind of gets a bad rep for that because the people who are the change agents, like myself, are seen as just going to come in, tell us everything that's wrong, and then walk away. That's true of a lot of change agents. What we at Trust Insights are trying to do, what I'm personally trying to do, is reframe the conversation in such a way that change management is applicable to everything and there is a very simple five-step framework that you can apply to any situation that's just going to help you get organized and help you get some kind of plan together.

As much as I dislike the cheesy marketing alliteration, it is the easiest way to remember things, so it's the five P framework from Trust Insights.

Kerry: No way?

Katie: It is. I know. It's funny because when I was teaching it, I thought I'm glad that I'm virtual because by the end of this I would be spitting on everybody.

Kerry: What are those Ps?

Katie: Purpose, people, process, platform, and performance. If you can answer those five questions – why are we doing this, who is involved, how do we do this, what tools do we need, and how do we measure success – then you can put together a project for pretty much anything. Whether it's for your personal life, for what you're doing at work, it could be a small thing or it could be a big thing.

A lot of times when we think about change management, we think about these big initiatives that are organization-wide, everybody needs to suddenly start doing this instead of this. But if you think about it on a smaller scale, let's take Google Analytics for example. It's something that Christopher Penn (my cofounder at Trust Insights) and I talk about a lot, getting set up on Google Analytics, making sure that you are setting up your systems properly. But then Google, the organization, rolled out Google Analytics 4, so it's the next version of it, so what we've seen a lot of people doing is just setting it up and then that's it.

What we're trying to do is take a step back and say that's good, but we can do better. When we talk with our clients and talk with other people about what that means, the first question we always want to ask is; Why do you have Google Analytics? There's sort of that like, duh, because you have to. And that's not a great answer, because you don't have to. We recommend it, but if you're never going to look at the data, if you're never going to make decisions with it, then it's just one more piece of software for you to have.

That's the first question you have to ask yourself is, "Why do I need Google Analytics?" Really challenging yourself to think through, "I as the CEO need Google Analytics so that I can see how much traffic is coming to my website," or, "so that I can see the conversions." Really understanding the purpose of it. That's the first P.

Kerry: If that's the first P and you're at that stage, and you're a doer, if you know what I mean, you're not a person in charge of the direction of the company, but you're charged with doing things, is it too late for you to be like, "Hold on a second. Why are we doing this?" or is it important to do that?

Katie: It's important to do that. That's a really great question. It's never too late to get further clarity. We've all been guilty of it, I've done it myself, just let me plug in this piece of software and let it just collect data. I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet, but it's just there. It's never too late to go back and try to figure out what's the question that you're trying to answer.

That question, let's say in February you decide, "I have Google Analytics set up because I want to know traffic," that doesn't mean in August you can't change your mind and set a different goal. Then you have to re-answer all of those other questions to align with the new goal, or maybe it's two goals. It's never too late to change your mind about something, but you then have to work through the rest of the framework.

Chris and I were joking a couple of weeks ago about this topic. We were like, "It's July 29th. Why isn't July 29th a great day to start fixing things? Why do we have to wait until January 1st?" It's an arbitrary deadline. Why not start today? Today is a great day to do anything.

Kerry: It's not as good as six months ago, but you have to start sometime.

Katie: That's true. You can't change six months ago. That's the problem is we tend to just be reactive trying to change things that have already happened. You can't do that, so you can really only look forward.

Kerry: There's five Ps and that's one.

Katie: That's one. The first question is, "Why am I doing this?" What's the question you're trying to answer, its purpose. The second P is people. This is where, believe it or not, you should spend the most time, and it's historically where people spend the least amount of time because there is a misunderstanding of how many people will be impacted by this change.

Again, let's use Google Analytics as an example. Let's say I want to move from Google Analytics 3 to Google Analytics 4. Most companies will be like, "We just need to know who owns Google Analytics in our company, and that's the person who needs to know what this thing is." Well, that's a great place to start, but it's not the only person involved. You probably want to talk to people about are the goals that we have set in Google Analytics 3 still relevant and who uses this data. The data from 3 to 4 is going to change quite a bit. You can still get the same quality of data, but how it looks is going to look a little bit different and how it's delivered is going to be different. Maybe your customers are seeing some of these statistics, as an example. What do they need to know, what's the communication plan for them?

Really thinking through all of those different use cases for this one single change that you're making will give you the opportunity to have those conversations early and often, but also empower people and help hold them accountable for making the change successful. Because the number one problem with change management is people not understanding why they're being asked to do something or being given a task to do and then you just sort of walk away and go, "Just do it," and there's no other context, so they don't feel invested in the change, they don't feel like they're really part of that decision.

Having a better understanding of all of the different players that will be impacted by the change upfront is going to help you in the long run. Now, you may not know all of those people upfront.

Kerry: Totally not. A lot of times there's leadership-level decisions about things without a really good understanding of what that entails for the team that's executing. If you don't know those details, you can't know who would be doing them, so there's a knowledge gap.

Katie: Right.

Kerry: What do you do, how can you know what you need to know to make those decisions without being down in the weeds?

Katie: It definitely is a process. That's the third P. You're never going to get it completely right. I think that's one of the pro tips is there is no such thing as perfect change management. It just does not exist. The best thing you can do is stay open and keep iterating. The problem that I see happen is people want to jump directly from we have a problem to solve to just doing the thing, pushing the buttons in the system and just making it happen, and skipping over people and process.

In order to avoid some of these pitfalls that we're talking about, and that was one of the Ps from the presentation, is continuing to have the conversation and communicate. So, not making decisions in a vacuum. Even if it's, "Hey, we as the leadership team have decided to move from Google Analytics 3 to Google Analytics 4. What questions do people have? What have we not thought of?" Being confident enough to say, "We don't know everything. We need your help to make sure that we're doing this the right way. We might be experts, but we can't know everything that's about to happen, so we need your input."

Just allowing people to have their say, because there's going to be use cases that you didn't think of, so getting a more diverse group of people together to understand all the different things that are happening will continue to set you up for success. Now, do you need to open this up to everybody in the entire company? Probably not. But at least hitting the typical teams, IT, marketing, sales, customer support, making sure you're getting at least one representative from each of those departments to at least weigh in and know that this thing is happening is probably not a bad idea.

Kerry: Pretty recently I talked to Carla Johnson on the show about her book RE:Think Innovation. She talks about the different types of organizational innovators in the book. One of them, I can't remember the title she gives the people, but they're the ones who basically poke holes in things without having ideas always to fix them, so you don't want just those people, but you definitely want some of those people, it seems like, at this stage to poke holes in the things that you're thinking about doing so that you can plug them.

Katie: Yes. That's absolutely true. The pushback that you would get from trying that is, "Well, that's going to take too long. They're going to go down a rabbit hole that we don't have time to," or, "We don't have the resources to let people just have conversations about this thing." Again, that's kind of where this change management goes wrong is you haven't done enough communication upfront as to what you're doing and why you're doing it in order for people to feel like they can get on board with the change.

We're using Google Analytics as an example, but think about companies that you've been in where someone is like, "We've been bought, so that's changing."

Kerry: So, forget everything I just said.

Katie: Right. Obviously, there are confidentiality things that you need to factor in, but the way in which things are communicated is really important. That's really the foundation of change management is making sure that your communication is honest and transparent.

It's okay to say, "I don't know. I don't have the answer," but not leading upfront, "This is exactly how it's going to be and it's never going to change again," and then six months later it changes and you're like, "We didn't know." Instead, the conversation should be, "We don't know what it's going to look like in six months, but we want you to work with us to help frame what that's going to look like."

Easier said than done. It's just ideally you would have a culture that is open and honest.

Kerry: What about simpler changes that aren't so far-reaching? For example, if management sends out an email that says everybody has to use virtual Zoom backgrounds, and that's it. There might be some people that are like, "I quite like my background," or, "It makes my wi-fi glitchy," or whatever. It's probably not something really everybody needed to hear, but they made it a policy rather than address it with whatever problematic individuals.

What's the right way to communicate something like that where you're not worried so much about the future ramifications, you're just worried about this fairly minor thing, but you do need everybody on board?

Katie: In that scenario, what you're describing is they've just given a mandate and walked away. Helping people understand why something is being asked of them goes a long way. Even if it's, "Everybody needs to use a virtual background moving forward. Here's why. Because we want a more consistent look and feel for the brand, so we've created a Trust Insights background that we're asking everybody to use. If you're having issues implementing that, here's some troubleshooting guides."

Really just giving people the information upfront, anticipating those concerns and questions, and trying to address as many of them as you can. You can't get to everything, but if you're going to mandate something, you should probably give people an opportunity to ask questions as well. "If you have questions, we will have a community forum for 20 minutes on Thursday. Submit your questions and we'll try to get to as many as possible." That kind of thing.

It generally doesn't work well when you just demand something of somebody and then walk away and expect results. It just doesn't work. We're humans, and consistently humans don't respond well to that.

Kerry: You work with a couple of people who might be considered difficult to wrangle. How do you communicate necessary changes to them?

Katie: I always start with why. I always start with the purpose, what's the question I'm trying to answer, why am I doing this thing, why did I do this thing and not something else. Part of that is making sure that you have some answers to common questions like, "Why do we need to make this change?" That comes with some scenario planning. You can do two typical scenarios. One is here's what happens if we don't make this change, here's what happens if we do make this change.

If we don't make this change in context of Google Analytics, then we don't get up on the latest platform, if Google shuts off access to Google Analytics 3, we lose our data. That's the scenario that plays out if we don't make this change. If everybody can live with that, then we don't do anything. The scenario where we do make the change is where we're running two systems in parallel up until the point where Google decides to shut off access to Google Analytics 3, and then we have 12, 16, 18 months of historical data to work with. That's scenario two. I vote for scenario two, but if everybody is comfortable with scenario one, we have to live with the consequences of not making the change.

Really helping people wrap their heads around it, understanding why you're proposing to make this change, or why you're just going ahead and doing it, and how you've done your homework to understand what it looks like. Really bringing them into the space that you're already in, trying to get them to meet you where you are.

Kerry: Purpose, people, process… We're getting there.

Katie: We're getting there. Process is how you do the thing. Depending on what you're doing, let's take the Zoom background for example. That seems pretty straightforward. There shouldn't need to be a process, you click a button. Well, that doesn't mean that everybody has the same expertise in Zoom.

Kerry: Different operating systems, different devices.

Katie: Right, exactly. Is everybody using a wireless headset, or a wired-in headset, does that change the settings? What size are their screens?

Kerry: Do they have big hair?

Katie: Right. Have we made the background easy for people to access? Do people have lots of green in their background, which might mess with the green screen effect? Those kinds of things. In terms of the process, even just starting small with step one, step two, step three, giving people a jumping-off point.

For example, I don't use Zoom a lot. I usually use it when I'm a guest on other people's meetings or calls, and I've never used a virtual background. It would take me a few minutes to figure it out. One of the process things might be, "If you've never done this before, sign on 10 minutes ahead of time to figure it out."

Trying to really make sure that everybody has a consistent experience if they are executing the things being asked. Again, it's not going to be perfect, but giving people a jumping-off point guidelines to start with.

That's a Zoom call thing, but if you're talking about transitioning from one piece of software to the next, there needs to be a more in-depth process for is the data one-to-one, do we have to recode things, recategorize thing, do we have to rethink our governance around who has access and who doesn't.

Kerry: Should we reexamine what we're collecting in the first place and figure out if we need to carry it over?

Katie: Exactly. Yes. There's a lot that goes into it. Again, skipping over those steps means that you'll have to go back and do them anyway, but then you'll have already changed the thing and then you're trying to retroactively fit more changes into the change you've already done. Instead of doing it more thoughtfully in the first place, now you're just scrambling and wasting more time and resources.

Putting together some kind of a process, it doesn't need to be an elaborate multi-day process with 300 steps. It can literally be three steps, five steps, ten steps. Just something to ensure the consistency and that you've tried to hit all of the marks from moving from this state to this state.

Kerry: Number four…

Katie: Platform.

Kerry: Obviously, if we're talking Zoom backgrounds, it will be Zoom. But if you're talking about something completely different, like changing your enterprise from one solution for something to another, you're actually changing platform. Or do you mean platform for addressing the change management?

Katie: Both. Platform really covers what are the tools that you need in order to make this change happen.

In the example of the Zoom background change, you need Zoom. You probably need some sort of communication channel, so is that Slack, is that Teams, is that email, so that's another platform. Then the platform might also be are you creating the Zoom background for people or are you just saying use a virtual background and to pick one.

Really making sure that you are setting the correct expectations around what is about to change and then having the right tools in place to make the change.

Let's say you're demanding that everybody change their Zoom background to something virtual. Does everybody have access to Zoom? Does everybody have the right controls and access levels in Zoom in order to make that change?

If you're changing enterprise software, what is the software? Do you need to buy it? Do you already have it? Does it also need some sort of server for the platform to sit on top of or is it web based?

Kerry: Do they have a team of people at the vendor to help you somehow?

Katie: Right. There's a lot of different components. How do you pull the data out of it? Where does that data sit, does it sit in an SQL server, does it sit in Power BI, does it just natively go into something like a Tableau or a Data Studio?

When you're changing software platforms, there's probably a lot of other auxiliary platforms that are affected by that change as well, so you can't just unplug one thing and plug in another one, you have to think through what all of those connection points are as well. If I'm changing my marketing automation system for how I send my emails, does that impact my website collection data, does that impact my CRM data, does that impact my sales data, does that impact my reporting tool?

Kerry: Better to think about that in advance.

Katie: I would like to believe so.

Kerry: If this is a workshop, we're doing great. We're to number four, so I'm feeling good about this. Some people thought change management wasn't even necessary, they were like, "Just deal with it." There is a way to help, you can't ensure success, but you can at least make it more likely. This is how you make success more likely when you're dealing with change.

Katie: That's exactly it. That's why I really wanted to boil down the change management process to if you can answer these five questions then you're probably going to set yourself up for better success than if you just said, "Deal with it."

The fifth is performance. How do you measure success, how do you know that you did the thing? In the example of the Zoom backgrounds, how are you going to measure success? Do you login to every single call that people are having to double check that they're using the Zoom background? Do you measure customer satisfaction that they're getting a consistent experience whenever they're talking with somebody from Trust Insights that everybody has the same background and you don't see my dog roaming around behind me or people wandering in and out of Kerry's screen asking here when's dinner?

Kerry: Maybe a random sampling. You can't sit through every meeting.

Katie: Not that these things have happened. But you need to decide what the measure of success is. Is it a feedback survey from the team to say, "Yes, I've used the Zoom background and, yes, I like it a lot better. It takes the stress off of me from making sure that my room is clean," for example? You need to decide what that looks like, but you really should have a measure of success in place that ties back to the purpose of did we answer the question and how do we know that we did.

Kerry: In that case, it seems like whatever prompted you to make the change would be what you go back to. If there was a customer complaint or something, then you would look and see if there are any more, or less of those.

Katie: Exactly.

Kerry: Okay. In your experience, let's assume that if you're dealing with a B-to-B enterprise situation and there is some complicated change that needs to be made, what's a reasonable timeframe for something like that?

Katie: It really depends. That might be a performance measure of how long did it take for us to make this change.

I was talking with someone a couple of weeks ago and they were trying to move from one server system to another server system. Because of a lack of requirements upfront, people were getting frustrated with how long the change was taking, so instead of seeing the change through, they were just going to abandon it and pick a different vendor to go with that might have all of the same features and buttons and knobs, whatever it is, and say that one will work instead.

Doing that work upfront to really understand the question you're trying to answer, the people, and the process can help you get to that understanding of how long this thing might take, how big is it really, so that you can set realistic expectations.

If it's a small change, like upgrading your Google Analytics system, it might be a 30-day project, if that, provided you collect all of that information upfront. But if you're moving software systems all together, by understanding all of the different teams involved, all of the different vendors that might be involved, all of the different transition plans in terms of data collection, security, access, governance, then you can be like, "Wow, this is actually a really big deal, and it's probably going to take us about 18 months to do. Do we need to do this?"

It gives you the opportunity to continually make decisions along the way instead of just starting the thing and being like, "Oh crap, we just wasted a buttload of money and people's time, and we're not even a quarter of the way to where we want to be."

Kerry: And that will be demoralizing. Do that once, twice, or three times, and pretty soon people are just going to be like, "Whatever. I'll do it when you come to my desk and stand there until I've done it," then they just won't believe you anymore.

Katie: Right.

Kerry: I noticed in the Trust Insights newsletter you're writing about change quite a lot. Is that new?

Katie: It is, and it isn't. It's the way that we have always internally approached projects, but up until recently we didn't realize that that's what we were doing, we didn't realize that we were following the same formula for every single problem.

Once the light bulb sort of magically appeared above my head of this is a framework, then I was able to start to take a step back and go, "Are we applying this five-point framework consistently across every single project?" The answer was yes, so it gave us an opportunity to message ourselves a little bit differently. I've seen some really positive results of people getting a better understanding of what it is that we're trying to do, which is really affect positive change within any organization.

A lot of times the purpose is something to do with their data, their analytics, but it has also opened up the conversation of, "Can you help me understand do I have the right players on my team," or, "Are we even using the right software," or, "Are we competing against the right competitors?" Answering a bunch of different questions using the same consistent approach every single time. What that does is that gives our clients a really good user experience, so they know what to expect from us and we can say what we do is measurable every single time. That's really important to people because they want to know did they get the thing.

Kerry: You're one of our MarketingProfs Practice Leads for MarketingProfs Consulting program, so I know people can get your services that way. What other ways can they get more information about you and keep up, maybe get the newsletter?

Katie: You can go to TrustInsights.ai/newsletter to sign up for the newsletter. You can go to TrustInsights.ai for our main website, which is currently being rebranded. You can find out all the information there. You can subscribe to our podcast that Chris and I publish every Wednesday. The newsletter is also weekly. You can find us on our YouTube channel.

Kerry: My goodness, you are everywhere.

Katie: We are everywhere. We do a livestream every Thursday called So What. The reason it's called So What is because we really wanted to make sure we weren't just pontificating and theorizing but we were really demonstrating how to do things. The joke is every time Chris shows me something, the first thing I say to him is, "So what?" because what I want to know is what do I do with it, how can I use this in my every day, and that's the basis of the livestream. So what? You're telling me about natural language processing, but I as an average non-technical marketer need to know what I can do with it.

Kerry: My freshmen year calculus professor used to say, "What's it good for?" Everything he taught us, he would give us the good-for. Katie, thanks so much. This was fun, as always, and I think we've all learned a lot about change management.

Katie: The five Ps. Just don't stand too close to someone when you're reciting them.

Kerry: This has been the Marketing Smarts Podcast brought to you by MarketingProfs. Thanks for listening.