Change is inevitable
There is a quirky little shop tucked along the commute from my home to my office in downtown Boston. The owner’s business card reads, “miller of precision machining, keeper of arcane knowledge.” In the front of the shop there is a sign that allows for customized messages to be dropped into its slotted tracks. I guess it’s not surprising that this particular sign does not herald conventional sales offers. A recent posting proclaimed, “Change is inevitable, except in vending machines.”
Okay, it’s goofy, but it also rings true. Change is inevitable. It is also critical and difficult. Managing change within an organization so that it creates momentum and alignment while responding to the dynamics of a fluid, volatile world is kind of the Holy Grail for any business. This is as true for small nonprofits as it is for Fortune 100 companies. Success will always be based in the people who work for and support the organization.
Often the path ahead for an organization is mired in a haze of complexities: departments that have grown and spawned other divisions; the introduction of new products or new markets; deeply embedded notions of how things are done; hybrid “Frankensteins” that are the result of previous re-organizations or mergers. It’s pretty easy to get deep into the weeds, and this makes managing change very hard.
The role of branding
There are numerous established processes and approaches to change management. One discipline that is seldom viewed in this light but that can provide a powerful complement to traditional change management stems from the brand development process. It’s a much more design-centered approach that focuses on holistic, conceptual, and empathetic problem solving.
Getting to the core of why an organization matters now and in the future is at the heart of all good brand development. And it requires very careful listening: to the people who work for the organization; to current and potential audiences; and to changes in the world around us. The nature of the branding process is one of synthesis and simplification. Complexities are filtered, clustered, and wrangled into a single, elegant notion. Other strategic planning exercises may touch on many of these areas, but branding differs fundamentally in how it translates those findings.
A unique language
Branding employs a unique visual and verbal language. Ideas are expressed at their most primal, symbolic level. Branding is about both clarity and sacrifice. It is a language that is emotional, minimal, and portable. That language is becoming ubiquitous. We are living in world of communication based on symbols and shorthand encoded in images, taglines, tweets, and YouTube videos.
While many may bemoan this phenomenon as the demise of the world as we know it, it works and works very well. Think about how much you know about a great brand and how simple and powerful the cues are that have shaped that perception. Those symbols build associations about who we are and who we want to be. This is powerful, and can affect not only perception but behavior as well. And managing organizational change must clearly embrace both.
A two-part harmony
The output of the branding process must be captured in two related parts: the spirit of the brand and the rules of the brand. The spirit of the brand is the essence of an organization’s vision and values and must be available and understood by every individual associated with the organization. The rules of the brand provide the guidelines and tools for the organization to police and measure the dissemination of ideas into the marketplace with consistency and clarity.
Education and training
A critical and under utilized aspect of branding is staff and board training. These workshops allow for the spirit of the brand to played out with staff so they can see how it relates to their role in the company. It doesn’t work for management to say, “We are changing. Here’s your new brand.” In our client engagements, we have employed a variety of techniques including role playing and peer review to help individuals re-imagine their roles in the organization, identify potential roadblocks for management, and create a much broader climate for receptivity to change.
A way forward
In our work with complex, mission-driven organizations over the past 22 years, we have seen a gradual evolution in their understanding of the role of branding. The simplistic notion was, “We’re going to change our logo.” But our approach to the work makes it clear that branding is much more about making the organization’s vision real and visible inside the organization. Only then can you map this vision into the public expression of how you look, sound, and act.
Understood in this way, branding can be a powerful lever for managing change. Helping organizations create the internal alignment they need and understand their true value provides clear rules and guidelines for decision-making. It also creates a more powerful and visible connection to the people they want to reach. Finally, it offers the means to measure if it’s working and the tools to make adjustments in order to continue to build connections and trust among all stakeholders.