Managing Change in Today’s Digital World

I recently had a bit of a health scare. About a month ago I started having some severe abdominal pain, and being a guy who grew up in the country, I figured I’d tough it out.

Well, that was a mistake.

Once the pain overruled my ego, two blood tests, three doctors, an ultrasound, a CT scan and 12 hours later, the doctor asked me if I knew what Diverticulitis was.

Cool! I have the same thing MMA fighter, and current WWE champion, Brock Lesnar has!“, blurted out my defence mechanism.

Not cool, actually,” said Doc flatly. “This is a severe case and you narrowly avoided the need for emergency surgery or possibly death.

Way to spoil my fun.

Sitting in the hospital for five days feasting on antibiotics and bag after bag of potassium, none of which has a nice bacon cheeseburger aftertaste, I had plenty of time to find out how my life would change thanks to the free hospital-speed Wifi.

I learned possible causes, how my diet needed to change, how others lived with this disease, how some still struggle, how some needed surgery, how some plummeted into depression, how some never had a symptom after their first “attack”, what drugs were used, what myths around the disease were alive and well thanks to the internet, what the side-effects were…uh, I think you get the point.

Yeah, yeah, what the hell does this have to do with organizational change?


In 1995, John Kotter published the article that previewed his book Leading Change. That article described eight critical steps for implementing successful transformation change. And it was ground-breaking.

At the time.

I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t 1995 anymore. The world is different now. With free WiFi and a whole lot of time on my hands, I was able to reduce my anxiety due to the apparent abduction of my doctors, by finding out exactly what was in store for my future. Imagine my surprise when the dietician told me exactly what I already knew from reading the Wikipedia article about the disease.

In 1995, there was no Google. The internet was a mess, and some even thought it a big juicy piece of baloney. Baloney that I’m not allowed to eat anymore, by the way.

In 1995, change agents had the luxury of planning changes down to every excruciating detail. They had time to prepare documents and execute processes to install change, but not anymore.

People, more specifically executives, want to see results sooner and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. If anything, the artificial urgency Kotter warned has become real urgency simply because that’s the way of the world today.

Today’s change agents need a better way to facilitate change. They don’t need a Comms Plan anymore, they need help from Marketing. I’m not talking about Marketing spin, I’m talking about taking advantage of the creative thinking that marketers possess.

After all, getting people to align to your change is not much different than trying to get a customer to buy your new product. You’re essentially trying to get someone to behave differently.

These are 2 simple, but powerful, techniques for managing change in today’s digital world:

Big Visible Walls

You say your Executives “don’t have time” to visit a big visible room? Bring the big visible room to them via poster boards taped to the wall beside their office. In 1995, this “no time” problem would be perceived as the lack of executive support. Instead of blaming them, reduce the effort needed by the executives to see what’s going on? You, as a change agent, aren’t there to control the change, you’re there to facilitate it and sometimes a concierge service such as this is necessary.

I’m in the middle of a large-scale change where we’ll be implementing this soon. When you have multiple executives distributed across multiple timezones, it takes some co-ordination, but it’s doable. This is our prototype:

Whiteboard Prototype
Whiteboard Prototype
Ready to Ship!
Ready to Ship!

It depicts:

  • major obstacles for the change
  • stories and quotes from people affected by the change
  • trending ‘health’ stats from teams across the organization (team happiness, stakeholder happiness, team quality, how well the teams feel their being supported by the organization)
  • what objectives are being worked on in the current month

We’re building the “walls” from 4 printed Powerpoint slides, taping them to a big piece of bristol board and updating them on a regular cadence, which so far will be bi-weekly. This will make it easier to distribute to all the VP’s.

Time, and a future blog post, will tell if it’s valuable. If it isn’t, we’ll try something else.


Forget the Comms Plan. No one is looking at your newsletters, and no one is reading your Sharepoint site. They aren’t. Really. Get over it. Think differently:

  • Leave flyers in every conference room with how people can get support for the change. Even better, hand them out in the lobby like those annoying survey people at the mall!
  • Put up posters in high-traffic areas that advertise workshops or training events
  • Instead of using a Sharepoint site stuffed with PPTs, create a news station and make short (2 – 3 minute) videos of success stories or progress reports. Of course, getting people to watch them is a different story, but there are creative ways to make that happen. Namely, “film” your videos in a high traffic area so people will see what you’re doing.
  • Use Mailchimp and get people to Opt-in to communications. That will help you find early adopters too.

Put cards in all conference rooms
Put cards in all conference rooms
Advertise events in high-traffic areas
Advertise events in high-traffic areas

It was close to midnight before I received my diagnosis. All I was told was “you’ll be here for a few days and the doctor will check on you tomorrow afternoon”.

In 1995, I’d have gone nuts waiting more than 24 hours, all the while worrying about what was in store for me.

Today, access to information is instant and the digital world has substantially increased the risk of your organization being disrupted. Traditional change methods can’t help today’s organizations survive.

We all *know* communication is important, we all *know* people need to see quick wins to keep the momentum for the change up, and we all *know* executives must support the change. These watered-down phrases and out-dated thinking aren’t relevant anymore.

If you’re passionate about bringing meaningful change to people, the “best practice” for implementing organizational change is the innovative practices you create given the unique circumstances of the organization, the type of change being implemented and the people affected by the change.

As for me, recovery is going well,  I might not know whether or not I’ll need surgery for another couple of weeks, but thanks to today’s digital world, I know the best, middle and worst case scenarios!

In a few weeks Lean Change Management will be released! My dream is to inspire change agents around the world to challenge the status quo and question the same ol’ ideas by creating innovative practices for facilitating change.

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