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Business Observer Monday, Dec. 2, 2013 8 years ago

How to overcome internal dissent

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When employees choose to ignore announcements of change, using the 'Rule of Six' to communicate the importance behind them can keep everyone moving forward.
by: James R. Contributing Columnist

CEOs are often puzzled when a major new initiative has been announced but doesn't seem to gain traction within the company. As the CEO you have prepared the strategy, developed all the plans carefully, and you know this is the right initiative for the company. Nevertheless, what was launched with what you thought was the appropriate solemnity seems to fall flat with employees once it has been announced.

Employees are not robots with an on/off switch. Announcements without enough internal marketing conviction from management are often greeted with skepticism or worse. Employees will resist changes that could be perceived as inconsistent or an inconvenience. Ignoring new management directives are sometimes seen as sport among employees at some companies, and resistance can spread faster than you can say “social media.”

The “Rule of Six” means simply telling your message six different ways to convince your employees that this directive is real, it matters and it will not go away if it is ignored.

The Rule of Six applies to both large and small companies. It can also be executed internally through traditional speeches, newsletters, memos and internal blogs, or even through media advertising. The point is to treat the announcement like a strategic initiative and treat your employees like the critical audience they are and communicate with them like it matters.

One case study where the Rule of Six was successfully applied was after a contentious merger between two banks. After the merger was completed, a new name was announced, and employees of both banks were skeptical. The Rule of Six campaign launched with simultaneous announcements by the CEO to employees via a webcast, a newspaper media campaign subliminally targeting the employees, billboards tactically located near every major branch, new signage with the name change at every location before the announcement was made, new collateral material throughout the system, and new business cards at the desk of every employee along with a hat and business folder with the new name. Was it a lot of work to accomplish and coordinate all the elements of the program? Yes, but employees realized there was no going back to the old name, and they began to act like one company.

In another case, a beloved CEO left the company unexpectedly. A new highly competent CEO was hired, but employees decided to act out some serious passive-aggressive behavior. When the CEO announced new initiatives, employees would nod their head affirmatively then consciously resist implementing the plans. The new CEO was perplexed and started firing key management team members who couldn't keep their employees in line. An underground employee newsletter was established and things quickly grew to a near revolt. The problem became an issue for the board: Had they chosen the wrong CEO? As a last-ditch measure, a series of internal marketing campaigns were launched to take back the initiative from the troublemakers. The Rule of Six operation reaffirmed the vision and values of the company. The second wave focused on the goals of the business. The third wave focused on the importance of the excellent reputation the company maintained with its customers and within the communities. Each of these initiatives was communicated in six different ways so it would have significant impact and come across with overwhelming force — but not be seen as angry or vengeful. Within 60 days the rebellion was over, and within a year the CEO was winning great praise from the employees and the board.
When management announces a new initiative you want the employees of your company to go through an acceptance process. It looks something like this:

Establish Awareness
I know ... Employees know that a brand initiative exists and can articulate the brand promise and mission.

LEAD them to Understand
I know why ... Employees can describe the ideal experience we intend to deliver to our customers and understand why it's important to the company's success.

Encourage them to be fully Engaged
I believe ... Employees feel an emotional connection and believe they play a role in bringing the brand to life.

Empower them to take positive action
I deliver ... Employees at all levels deliver on the brand promise consistently at all touch points, and are enabled to do so by the organization.

Remember, if you are frustrated when key initiatives don't take hold at your company, simply apply the “Rule of Six” and you'll be amazed at the turnaround in attitude and understanding. It is a small price to pay for keeping your employees motivated and focused on those things that matter most in building your business.

James R. Gregory is founder and CEO of CoreBrand, a global brand strategy, communications and design firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Los Angeles and Tampa. He helps clients develop strategies to improve their corporate brands and profitability. Gregory has written four books on creating value with brands: “Marketing Corporate Image,” “Leveraging the Corporate Brand,” “Branding Across Borders” and “The Best of Branding.” Contact him at [email protected].

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