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Changecasting: A Better Way to Communicate Change?

In the last twenty years, I’ve probably read hundreds of books and articles on organizational change. My dissertation was a case study of a major organizational change. In all that time and all that I read, I found very little that dealt with how to best communicate a vision for change. The advice was mostly anecdotal and boiled down to “communicate early and often.” In a 2006 Public Administration Review article, Fernandez and Rainey surveyed over one million articles on organizational change and they concluded that the field was filled with conflicting theories and very little empirical evidence supporting these theories. One area that needed further research was the process of initiating change by which the change leader(s) communicate the need for change.

Then I came across a recently published book that offered specific advice on communicating a change vision. Written by Dr. Nickerson, the concept is called changecasting and it is a simple method. The leader records a series of weekly or biweekly videos that are no more than two-to-four minutes in length. In these videos the change leader speaks directly to the camera while explaining the change vision using only one idea per a video. The videos are released through a secure website for the entire organization to view simultaneously. The members of the organization are then encouraged to give their feedback to the videos through an anonymous web-based communication method. The change leader answers the feedback in subsequent videos.

In support of changecasting, Dr. Nickerson offers a case study of two firms (identities hidden) where the presidents initiated a major organizational change. One president used the changecasting method as outlined by the author while the other president used video but didn’t follow the changecasting method. The firm that used changecasting of course prospered while the other firm failed at its organizational change effort. There is a website and, for a fee, your organization can have their changecasting videos reviewed for effectiveness.

I’m usually wary of such books because many business books have plenty of anecdotes but not much empirical evidence to support the author’s claim. In this case, I think the changecasting method is a good idea because it does track well with what I found out in my research on organizational change and general theories on communicating effectively.

When change is communicated the general model is that the change leader(s) creates a vision and then broadcasts the vision to organization through different communication channels such as posters, newsletter, all-hands meetings, intranets, etc. Rarely is feedback encouraged and even rarer is the opportunity to offer anonymous feedback. Much of the advice on handling resistance to the change vision is either by marginalizing the dissenters or enforcing compliance with the change effort. Most change efforts are initiated because of a threatening situation to the organization so there is little time for dissent or even questioning of the change effort. As you can imagine, there is very little interactive communication about the change vision.

This explains why a large majority of change projects fail despite the fact that organizational change must be one of the most studied topics in management science. According to research by the Standish Group, roughly 70% of projects will not deliver promised results, go over the budget, use more time than scheduled, and/or consume more resources than planned for . Clearly, current methods for organizational change are not working effectively. There are many reasons for this but the biggest reason is resistance to change due to uncertainty about the proposed change.

Now, I don’t believe that people in general are naturally resistant to change. If that were true, people wouldn’t buy lottery tickets. What people are naturally afraid of is not understanding the implications of the change that they are compelled to follow. And it also human nature to imagine the worst in situations we do not fully understand.

This is what attracted me to changecasting. I like the aspect of keeping the messages short and simple so as to fully engage your audience. I also like the frequency of communications but what really interests me about process is the anonymous feedback. Opening up a dialogue about the proposed change can help to reduce the uncertainty and thus the resistance to change. There will probably be some residual resistance but I believe that the change leader(s) will gain more acceptance of the change vision than if they simply broadcast the change vision.

Organizational change is a fascinating area of study that also has major practical implications. Methods that can switch the 70% failure rate to a 70% success will be extremely beneficial considering the vast amounts of time, money, and resources the government now wastes on bad change projects. I am greatly interested if other GovLoop members were engaged in a change project where feedback was encouraged and if this feedback led to a successful outcome. I think the changecasting concept is a good method but it needs more empirical support.

References:
Fernandez, S., & Rainey, H. G. (2006). Managing successful organizational change in the public sector. Public Administration Review, 168-176.

Nickerson, J. (2010). Leading change in a web 2.1 world: How changecasting builds trust, creates understanding, and accelerates organizational change. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press

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Bill Brantley

I am also interested in studying recent government change projects no matter the outcome, so please feel free to contact me privately if you were in a change project. All messages will be kept confidential. Thanks.