‘Make it so’ – I have this great message, how do I make it stick?

How do you make the message stick?

Making the message stick

In this guest post our good friend Jane Northcote, change consultant and author of Making Change Happen, explains how to turn those messages into action.

You’ve done the work, asked the customers, run the workshops and now you have a set of communication messages that really capture your brand, and say what you are about. What next?

Now you have to make it alive, make it real, make it stick.

Making it alive means making the connection between words and actions. We want people to say “Ah! I see what you mean.”

To do this you need to find examples of existing behaviours, interactions, and events that act out your message in practice.

A simple example can be seen in a care home I visited recently. The brochure said that the home focused on ‘the individual needs of our residents.’ The person who took me round repeated this message, and indicated a Scrabble game that was in progress. A staff member accompanied an elderly Scrabble enthusiast whose fingers could no longer move the tiles, but whose mind was nonetheless keen. Here they were, in practice, catering for the individual needs of this resident. I could see it, it was labelled for me, and the words came alive.

Making it real means making your message the daily reality for every person and every interaction in the organisation. We want everyone connected with the organisation to say, “This is our message, and here’s how my work connects to it”.

Having identified the living examples of your message, the next stage is to make more of them. Expand, multiply and connect the examples, so they generate the common accepted practice throughout the workplace. Get people to engage with your message and to describe what they are already doing and experiencing in their daily work that supports this message. Show them what colleagues are doing to support the messages. Your message is already enacted out there in the workplace: make it more visible to make it more real.

Making it stick means making that reality self-perpetuating. People need to know what ‘good’ looks like, and keep doing it. So when you find ‘good’ actions and events, point to them, praise them, and reward them. Often, simply the act of labelling an action will encourage it. People want to do a good job at work, so giving specific, recognizable illustrations of what good looks like, and why it’s good, helps people to do it again. Coherent meaningful action is in itself rewarding, so the very act of linking behaviours to messages is important encouragement and makes the behaviour persist.

But this may not be enough. You may need to look to deeper structures and processes within the organization for long-term support of your messages. You may need to ask “how do our business processes and organisational structures support this message?” And if they don’t support them, change them.

The care home example was straightforward. There, a straightforward action embodied the ‘individual needs of every resident’ message. What if yours is a larger and more complex organisation, and the message is more difficult to make real with simple actions?

I recently worked with a chemicals company who were having trouble embedding a message around growth and expansion.  Of course, you can’t make this kind of message stick with simple gestures.  To make a mission statement like this come alive we need to turn to structures and processes. What I would expect to see in a business aiming for growth and expansion is a slick revenue generation process that supports the expansion, and a process whereby data on new sales is escalated up the hierarchy.

A structure to support expansion would reward and recognise the sales people who generate new revenue, and give them status in the organization. However at this chemicals company, the sales people were rather peripheral.

It was chemists and researchers who were rewarded, and who took the senior positions in the company. Research results, not sales results, were discussed at board level. The corporate message about revenue growth was therefore rather cynically received, especially by the hard-pressed sales people, who felt they were at the bottom of the pile.

As a quick test on structures, consider the roles that are central to your message. Are these people in the right place in your organisation, represented at senior levels, and recognised and rewarded?

  • If your message is about growth, the central roles might be sales people.
  • For innovation, look at the position of your researchers and technical specialists.
  • For customer service, it’s your front line operational staff who hold the key, so make sure they are given high status.
  • If it’s efficiency you’re driving for, look closely at where your finance team are placed in your hierarchy.

Do your structures and processes support your communications message or do they subvert it?

Making Change Happen

Author: Jane Northcote www.janenorthcote.com. Jane’s book is on Amazon: Making Change Happen – a practical guide to implementing business change

Illustration by Lizzie Everard.

More writing by Jane on this site:

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