This story originally appeared on Forbes.com on July 26, 2018.
To thrive in business tomorrow demands constant change today, and experienced leaders know that the hardest part of change is convincing people to change with you.
I’ve experienced life on both sides of the table, as a brand client and a creative agency leader. Over the years, I’ve seen cultural dysfunction — driven by disengaged, misaligned teams — eat great ideas in every organization. Teams resist what they don’t create. It’s a problem of belief.
For any vision of change to succeed, people have to embrace it as their own. And they have to seize opportunities to make it real in their daily work. But they won’t do either unless they believe in you and your vision.
And here’s the hard truth: Most of your employees probably don’t yet believe. It won’t do you any good to insist that they should.
Building belief is hard — really hard. But it’s more important than ever. I believe it’s the next wicked leadership problem.
Fortunately, powerful tools to solve it already exist in most organizations, within their marketing teams and their agencies. Just as consumer marketing persuades customers to believe in your company, change marketing can persuade your employees to believe in your vision of change.
This is good news for leaders because cynicism has never been so costly to companies. Belief, once you earn it, is rocket fuel for change.
What Do I Mean By Belief?
Belief is more than your people trusting that you’re telling the truth.
When you speak to your employees about “our vision for our company,” what most of them likely hear is “your vision for your company.” They don’t believe they matter in the new story you’re telling. They don’t believe you understand their daily challenges or value their experiences. And they don’t believe in the promise of joining you in your bold leap of faith.
Such cynicism leads to disengagement. And according to a 2016 survey by Gallup, 52% of employees in the U.S. stated they were “not engaged,” while 16% reported being “actively disengaged” from their work. They’re likely giving you minimal effort and nothing more. Consider the cost of that. Will they make the extra effort of adapting to a new way of working? More than likely, no.
And if your people are cynical, your customers will feel it in your product experience and customer service. They may conclude that your marketing message is an empty boast. They may choose, instead, a company they can believe in.
So, building belief is essential, but — ask your CMO if you haven’t experienced this directly — building belief is hard.
Belief, As The Foundation Of A Successful Business
Consumer marketing is a multibillion-dollar industry focused on persuading people to believe. Underneath the layers of design flair and creative genius, the brands we love most are often belief systems. We form them around unique, emotionally driven solutions to genuine human problems.
At Coca-Cola, for example, we gathered thousands of data points on the people we wanted to reach: who they were, what they wanted, what they cared about and, most importantly, why. We created emotional messages targeted at deeply defined audience profiles. We used behavioral segmentation and predictive communication to customize and time our messages. We shared those messages across all forms of media to which our audiences connected.
So, when I started to look at change management, I wondered: Why do we settle for so much less when we engage people as employees?
Building Belief Internally
Belief is something people feel, not something they think. Yet most businesses tackle employee engagement with a rational, informational approach that speaks mostly to the head. We give people something to think about but nothing that moves their hearts.
We’ve been using the wrong tools to build employee belief. That’s the real problem. To move people to feel, we should be leveraging consumer-grade marketing techniques. We should be marketing change, not just managing it.
We believe change marketing offers a new way to inspire people to join us in a bold leap of faith. It gives you the tools to:
• Get closer to your employees. To build belief, first, you have to listen. An annual employee engagement survey isn’t nearly enough. The best consumer platforms build profiles compiled of thousands of data points, pushing beyond profiling to behavioral segmentation and predictive communication. Go deeper. Meet your people. Ask better questions. Develop a picture of what drives each employee who drives your business.
• Inspire employees. Do so with stories of meaningful change in which their individual contributions matter. With a deeper understanding of your people, you can craft more impactful stories, allowing people of diverse roles and talents to see themselves as change agents rather than change-affected.
• Form a foundation of belief. Go beyond traditional training and instruction to create real opportunities for people to take ownership of your new vision, process or platform. Build these new ways of working into everyday working life, and your teams will drive cultural change.
When you do the hard work of building belief, your people will start to see themselves in your vision of change and work more willingly to make it real. According to a benchmark study conducted by the Hay Group and published in the Journal of Compensation and Benefits, “Organizations in the top quartile on engagement demonstrate revenue growth 2.5 times that of organizations in the bottom quartile.”
Belief also powers a virtuous cycle. Your customers often feel the belief of your people, and they may start to believe in you too. They may choose you over competitors whose cultural dysfunction creates a conflict between their brand story and the actual customer experience.
Building belief is difficult, but it’s worth it. Remember:
• Belief electrifies your vision.
• Belief unites your people.
• Belief transforms engaged employees into a driving force for growth.
At the heart of every transformation sits a group of people. Ignore their belief, and your vision will remain just that. Harness it, and they will make your vision their own.
Originally published at www.forbes.com on July 26, 2018.