The 8 dos and don’ts of change management in your marketing department

Change is an inevitable part of life and business, and yet we still manage to fail miserably at it 75% of the time. Another survey shows that while barely over half of change efforts succeed in the first place, things only manage to stay changed a quarter of the time, which, one could argue, is the most important part of change management.

Clearly, it’s easier to fail at change than it is to succeed. So, what’s different about the minority of cases where change efforts actually work – and manage to stick – long term? Dan Millman, author of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, offers one suggestion:

"The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."

It’s a brilliant thought, but how exactly does one go about it? From my own experience, as well as wisdom collected from colleagues and thought leaders, I’d like to share four dos and four don’ts that can make or break your ability to affect lasting change in your organisation.

Do: Build a case for change

Nobody wants change for change’s sake. And given the low success rates, you’re better off not attempting it at all unless there’s a strong business case in favour of the change.

Do: Create a systematic communication plan

With all the steps involved in a significant organisational change, one piece that’s often overlooked is a comprehensive and structured communication schedule. You have to share the right things, with the right people, at the right time, or you’ll inadvertently rev up the rumour mill. One employee hears one thing, passes the news to someone else, with slight embellishments, and before long you’re in the middle of a company-wide game of 'Chinese whispers' (also known as 'telephone' in the USA).

Do: Involve employees in the process

Regular communication is perhaps the most important part of making employees feel involved in a transition plan. When employees feel involved, they’re more invested in and supportive of the effort – and less likely to offer resistance.

Do: Celebrate small wins

Taking a moment to recognise small accomplishments is a great way to build momentum for your transition. Maybe you just launched phase one of your plan, with 37 phases to go, but that doesn’t mean you should just tick the box and move on to the next thing. Stop and celebrate, even if all you do is publicly acknowledge the contributions of each individual or team and order in pizza. You may have only completed 5% of the project, but that 5% was done brilliantly. It’s worth celebrating.

Don’t: Start too late

When there’s time pressure on a project, it’s never done as thoroughly. According to Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter:

“The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases [of change management] is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces satisfactory results.”

If there’s not enough time to do a thorough job, you’re better off scaling back the scope of the change, or postponing the initiative until you do have the time. Otherwise it'll just be a wasted effort.

Don’t: Lose your change momentum

When it comes to an internal launch regarding your change, you have to time it right. You don’t want to unleash this big fanfare and stoke excitement in your team, only to follow it up with weeks of radio silence. Schedule your internal announcements – and especially your official launch – at a time when the energy and enthusiasm around the project is likely to build. If you make a big deal about a forthcoming transition, and then nothing happens for six months, you’ll just have to stage another launch to reignite the enthusiasm. 

Don’t: Ignore internal resistance

Like change, resistance is inevitable. By following all of the Do’s (building a solid case to justify the change, communicating systematically, involving employees where you can), you can mitigate the amount of friction you’ll face, but you’ll never eliminate it entirely.

Don’t: Expect systems to change behaviours

Many of the changes that organisations or departments face these days are technology related. A company may be swapping one SaaS solution for another, or onboarding a completely new tool that is expected to revolutionise marketing processes, or productivity.

Change is challenging, but worth it

If managed correctly, change really can be one of the most positive things to happen in marketing. It’s about being brave and saying, 'Yes, this is going to take a lot of work, and yes, I have to approach this process carefully and deliberately. But there’s going to be something amazing at the end of it.'