This post was co-written by Better Way to Say It founder Jenny Magic.
As communicators and storytellers, content marketers are facing unprecedented changes.
Daily work requires an increase in performance without increasing resources. Content must be optimized for business value, as well as targeted and aligned to critical needs of the customer journey. If you add hybrid team management and developments around artificial intelligence to this change, you can see the increasing pressure for change on content teams.
It all adds up to a perfect storm of urgent change initiatives that the team may not have the capacity to handle.
Gartner research shows that in 2022, the average employee experienced 10 planned organizational changes — a fivefold increase from 2016. Their willingness to support those changes fell by nearly 30% over the same period. Unsurprisingly, change fatigue is a key concern in 2023 and beyond.
Let’s look at some recent examples that highlight the most common change challenges, and then walk through some solutions to build and strengthen your ‘muscles of change’.
Common change challenges for content teams
Change is happening across the organization and within the team. More commonly, they fall into three broad categories: process and workflow, leadership, and technology.
process and workflow
Changes in workflows and processes can trigger new ways of working. Whether it’s adapting how information is shared between teams, how content is delivered, or something else, they require the team to become familiar with the new systems.
Trench challenge: A client was struggling to understand the needs of their audience. Due to limited communication and departmental silos, teams lacked a workflow to gather information about their audience’s needs. Each team had different insights into the same audience, but the company didn’t specify how and when the knowledge would be shared.
How they made it work: A small project team was put together with representatives from all departments. Each representative examined what information their team was collecting, where it was being stored, and how it was being used. Team members were invited to workshops to define a shared vision of how departments could work better together. Ultimately, each team was able to access and view information faster, reducing bottlenecks and cutting time to production by an average of 6%.
Changes in your content technology stack can have a big impact. Consider the impact on people and processes.
Trench challenge: A nonprofit team lacked a cohesive system to track and manage their marketing. Team members took an ad hoc approach to file management.
How they made it work: A technology audit revealed the team had information stored in SharePoint, personal drives, and shared drives such as Google Drive and Dropbox. After three facilitated sessions, the team defined storage requirements (current and future), migration requirements (files essential to get work done), and a centralized location for file types. With a new information architecture and naming conventions, they are in the process of transitioning to new ways of working.
Changes in organizational structure, leadership or culture can trigger changes to improve efficiency, effectiveness and employee engagement. Mergers and acquisitions are often the trigger for an organizational review and audit.
Example in the trench: A merger expanded the size of a client’s existing teams exponentially. This sparked conversations about roles and responsibilities and who would be responsible for getting the job done. It also led to uncertainty about reporting lines, animosity between different groups, and fears about how the culture would change.
How they made it work: It started with an anonymous, confidential request to find out what the team members were thinking and feeling. The team then shared their concerns with everyone in a series of workshops. With this understanding, a transition plan was developed and eventually a new vision was developed for all teams to create a foundation to work together to drive better engagement and organic business growth.
While your team and organization may face different triggers, understanding the potential challenges that arise from change can help you plan proactively and minimize resistance. It can also help you think strategically while creating tactical plans to get the job done.
Training for change (aka building your change muscles)
When teams work proactively to build their “change muscles,” they drive business outcomes and demonstrate team value. Let’s take a look at what you can do today to help the team with the specific challenges of rolling out a change.
How to create a clear vision and change plan for new projects
You need to start a new initiative with clearly detailed expectations. Follow this multi-step process:
- Identify the scope and impact on team members.
- Take it slow. Visionary leaders often jump ahead and skip steps.
- Explain why and how so team members understand the purpose and expectations.
- Get curious. Ask questions to better understand people, workflows, and processes.
- Focus on solving the problem, not just the symptoms.
- Sell the vision.
- Identify and activate sponsors so that they participate visibly, which is essential for approval and communication.
- Make room for confidential requests and collect anonymous or protected feedback to encourage credible and insightful sharing of concerns.
- Create a change journey map for your internal team.
- Get ownership and commitment.
- Expect resistance and plan for it.
- Understand the team’s readiness for the new project.
- Get involved and get their feedback to improve the plan.
- Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
- Understand individual motivations and requirements.
- Share support and training to help them prepare.
- Reset expectations and consider team culture.
- Build psychological security to address uncertainty and change fatigue.
- Look at gaps in communication, collaboration, and decision-making.
- Watch out for bias and groupthink.
How to support change when you don’t have the right people
Ideally, you will have team members who have the experience and staff to run the project smoothly. In reality, you often have to start the change without sufficient resources. In this situation you should:
- Create a stakeholder map to show informal and formal relationships.
- Identify and bring in people who can help the team based on the expertise needed.
- Identify key influencers that can help with adoption and directly address concerns.
- Find gaps and ask for additional help or hire new help.
- Update priorities and time requirements.
- Prioritize or revise workloads. If you don’t succeed, look at what you need to remove or what you need to recommit to.
- Consider enlisting the help of unsung heroes – people who may be less visible but may be more available to help.
- New people can offer different perspectives and spot gaps in the current way of working.
This improves communication within and between content teams
The implementation of changes often fails because the environment does not appreciate the value of communication. To ensure this doesn’t happen:
- gather the people.
- Involve people from the start so that they become more involved in the change and reduce resistance.
- Schedule regular check-ins, acknowledge the impact of changes, and keep team members updated on progress.
- Reset and realign expectations and requirements as needed.
- Be transparent.
- Respond to emotions and acknowledge insecurity.
- Involve others in purposefully connecting and relieving stress.
- Recognize and appreciate contributions.
- Build psychological security.
- Encourage feedback and suggestions for improvement.
Changes happen every day
Ultimately, it takes time, determination, and focus to try new things and build new strengths.
By implementing these strategies, you can foster a culture of teamwork and collaboration and successfully manage change initiatives. Depending on your team’s goals and culture, you can plan strategically to gain genuine buy-in and reduce change fatigue. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, you can commit to a change approach that builds your team’s confidence and willingness to increase performance and success.
As Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “Real change, lasting change, happens step by step.”
We can only agree.
HANDSELECTED RELATED CONTENT:
Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute