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Many organizations that implement new policies, processes, or systems follow the mantra:  “Build it and they will come.”  They invest their time and resources building the new system, then, on the go-live date, they proudly announce their accomplishments and expect people to  start using it because “it’s the new reality.”  Other organizations take the “it’s the law” variation.  They give people advanced warning of the change, but provide dispassionate, step-by-step instructions.  Either way, these organizations then wonder why adoption rates are so low.

Both types of organizations ignore an important fact of life:  the majority of people do not like change.  Change is hard. Most people prefer to keep doing things the way they’ve always done it because it is familiar and comfortable.  Therefore, if you want to get people to change, you need to convince them that the change is good.  And it must be good for them, not just the organization.  You need to show them how it will make their lives better, either by giving them greater rewards or causing them less pain.

Getting people to change requires turning up the fires in their bellies.  It requires stirring their emotions enough to get them to WANT to do something differently.  The spark that ignites that kind of fire does not come from dispassionate, objective writing.  No matter what the legal department thinks, policy papers are not captivating.  If you are writing to motivate people to change, forget the rules about impartiality.  Use the following tips to write to excite:

  1. Talk to your audience:  Use second person (“you” and you understood) to talk to your audience rather than about them. Writing in the third person removes the burden of responsibility from the reader because it sounds like you mean someone else.  Writing to “you” makes it clear that the reader is the one who should take action.
  2. Remember your audience:  Avoid policy-speak and technical jargon.  Remember that your readers are not technical experts, policy creators, or policy enforcers.  Use language that is familiar to them.
  3. Talk to the “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM) first:  Get them excited for the change by talking about the benefits before explaining the mechanics. In other words, describe the WHY before the HOW, WHEN, or WHO.
  4. Use active voice to tell the story.  Restructure sentences to use the “Who-does-what” format.  Although the passive voice (“The form is sent by…” ) avoids gender agreement issues (his/hers/theirs), it takes longer to understand. Writing in the active voice (“Unit A sends the form…”) is more concise and clearly identifies who has ownership for an action.
  • Tip: To eliminate passive voice, search for the word “by” or any past tense form of “to be” in sentences.
  1. Make calls to action clear:  End your communications by telling readers exactly what you want them to do as a next step.  Begin your calls to action with an action verb.

Most importantly, don’t wait until the day or week before launching the new system to announce it.  Similarly, don’t announce the news for the first time in a training seminar.  People need time to process the information, adjust to the changing reality, and accept it before they are willing to learn how to operate within it.  You’ll get more impressive uptake if you don’t spring too much information at them all at once.

That leads us to….

This month’s questions:

What is the biggest blunder you have seen an organization make when rolling out a new policy, process, or system?  What would have made the change effort more successful?

Please share your ideas below so we can learn from each other.

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