In digital, so much of our work is about change. We change our strategy, our tactics, our organisations, to keep up with customers, competitors, and do better, more effective work.
If you’re the person responsible for making that change happen, it can be an exciting, galvanising prospect. But it can be lonely and daunting too: particularly the prospect of all the work it will take, or persuading your stakeholders to do things differently.
For me, the idea of the ‘change team’ has emerged as a way of making the journey less lonely and more successful. When I reflected on my experience of working to make big changes to clients’ content, I realised there was a purpose-built team at the heart of every success.
What do I mean by a change team? I see them as a ‘tiger’ team of specialists with diverse skills, who work together to transform a specific area of a business through collaboration and action. A great change team will give you your ‘squad’: the allies, support, influence and extra brainpower that make an overwhelming challenge seem possible.
There are three archetypes that I use to structure a change team:
- The Ice-breaker: a team working on a formal, structured pilot that proves the approach and clears the way for the rest of the organisation to follow. This works well for changes in processes and operations, where there are multiple stakeholders, and the stakes are high.
- The Lighthouse: an informal approach where the change team lights the way for the rest of the organisation, by providing positive examples of change for others to learn from. This works well if you want to create a change in mindset and behaviour.
- The Huddle: a dedicated, self-contained team working for rapid, iterative change. This works best for smaller, autonomous teams with a clear remit, and the permission to act in an agile way.
Whatever the archetype, the make-up of the change team is crucial to its success. Often your change team needs to include people who aren’t your immediate colleagues – it’s about making new connections, with people you don’t work with on a day-to-day basis. You need:
- Peers: a crack team of stakeholders from relevant parts of your business to give you the insight you need. Don’t be afraid to invite the people you’re most worried about convincing; having your critics on board can be a powerful force. This group will also plant a seed in all the relevant parts of your business, to help the change you’re trying to make take root.
- Senior sponsors: having at least one senior stakeholder on-board is often a prerequisite for real change. As well as providing crucial advocacy and influence, they can also make your other stakeholders sit up, take notice and want to get involved.
- Agency partners: unsurprisingly, I’d also argue for working with an agency partner. Having us on the journey gives you extra capacity, experience and capability, which is so important when change isn’t the only item on your team’s agenda. We can also play a vital disruptive role – acting as a catalyst by bringing in fresh ways of thinking that push you and your stakeholders outside ‘business as usual’. If you have retained agencies who are a key part of your organisation, you may want to bring them into the team, to ensure that change makes it through to them too.
Change teams can tackle a wide range of challenges and opportunities. They are particularly successful when it comes to shifting your approach to digital marketing. I’ve used these methods to develop and roll-out new digital strategy, build better processes for content, and help emerging teams find their purpose.
At American Express we used an ice-breaker change team – the Editorial Hub – to introduce and pilot a new end-to-end approach for content. The Editorial Hub brought together a pilot group of stakeholders from across Amex’s central marketing functions, global markets, and brand and content production agencies. We ran workshops to co-create a strategy, and introduced regular editorial meetings to bring the team together. In this way, we were able to speed up the pace of change: we could bypass the typical phases of a project where you have to convince people of the value of the strategy, or wait for them to be ready to adopt a new process, because we took them on the journey.
The results were impressive: in a few months, market uptake of central content increase five-fold, and customer engagement with content doubled. One of the most significant changes was getting all the stakeholders in a room together on a regular basis. Seeing relationships, camaraderie and collaboration grow in those meetings was rewarding and paved the way for meaningful, lasting change. The change team broke the ground for a successful global roll-out of the new approach, and for us to hand the project back to the business and move onto a new challenge.
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