Radina Ralcheva is a top-tier management & communications professional, consultant, lecturer, media analyst, activist, and professional volunteer. She has 24+ years’ experience both in domestic and international environment, 20 years of which on C management level. Her background includes number of industries, all scale businesses including Fortune 500 companies, international and state institutions, NGOs, political bodies, and other organizations. She has managed local integrated and/ or cross border projects and large-scale integrated communications campaigns across Europe and other regions with budgets ranging from E200 000 to E5.5 mln. Currently, she is Corning’s EMEA Communications Manager, responsible for ensuring high-end performance of corporate communications in EMEA in alignment with the overall corporate strategy. Apart from this, Radina is also a member of IPRA and BPRS and a holder of a special distinction of the Annual Awards for Contribution to Human Rights and Public Welfare “Human of the year” 2014. She holds two master and one bachelor’s degrees (Philology, Sociology and Cultural Studies) from St. Kliment Ohridski Sofia University.
When we talk about modernizing of the existing or, even more courageously, about applying new policies within the business organizations, the conversation often does not begin from the right place, and sometimes it does not even take place. However, it is crucial to have this conversation and more so in the form of a dialogue in which there is a shared understanding.
The ability to change is one of the key elements for the vitality of companies and a prerequisite for their ability to persist, lead, and innovate in a fast-paced world, build corporate identity, as well as to foresee the future.
Do you know what Mahatma Gandhi and Emily Dickinson have in common? Clearly, both have nothing to do with the corporate world, yet both are the sources of wisdom and inspiration for people around the globe. Furthermore, both, with their own means of expression, left us messages of close meaning.
“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do,” was quoted by Mahatma Gandhi while Emily Dickinson said,
“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.”
You see, the shared message is that change is not an abstract philosophical concept, but a power that every person wields. Change starts with a single person who wakes up one morning with an idea or with a sense that something is wrong, and he/she must take action to fix it.
Change, big or small, begins in our own head, and often the smallest of things can lead to significant changes. A simple story from my work experience, related to a paper collection box, has grown to become the fuel for the creation of the pilot Green Corporate Policy of a company with over 1,200 employees. Yes, it didn’t happen overnight, because change is not an easy process. It takes time. Initially, people did not understand what the meaning behind it was, but gradually attitudes changed for the better.
Therefore, if you are the person with the idea, the person who wants to generate change, especially if your idea is good, do not give up. And if you happen to be in a mid to senior level in a corporate structure, you should not give up. In your capacity of being a manager, part of your job description should include unwritten “requirements”, including being a generator of change, having the courage to be a leader, having the will to sacrifice your own ego for the sake of matters of greater importance, taking responsibility for processes beyond your direct scope of work, and being capable of sourcing the necessary support for achieving your goals.
And since I am a communications professional, I will highlight the role of communications in driving change. I know that bringing about change in a business environment could sometimes be a desperately ungrateful process. It can mean knocking on closed doors, misunderstandings, and unwillingness to understand, overt or subtle opposition and even resistance. And this is normal. People in general are not friendly to change, even small change, although they often believe the opposite. This is also true about change in the working environment and company culture.
And this is the place to say that properly structured and planned communication can eliminate many of the potential resistance factors when introducing change in the organization. In general, there are two main approaches to introducing this change. In the first case, the company management takes a decision and cascades it down the hierarchical structures of the company, and in the second case, some employee’s idea for change, regardless of where it is born in the company, gains support and gradually gets formalized into a new corporate policy. The former is about information delivery, and the latter – about persuasive communication. Needless to say, the second option is significantly more effective, hitting all possible key criteria that matter for the integrity and healthy performance of companies. In the second case, we are talking about a full-fledged communication practice, which fills with meaning and content communication as such. Let’s not forget that by providing shared meanings and proactively seeking mutual understanding, communication serves as the basis of social structures in general.
I will therefore try to bring up a conditional matrix of things you can do to generate the change you seek in your company, according to the second approach described above. And if you are the person with an idea for change, here are a few steps I am hoping will help you bring it to life:
- Identify the objective meaning that from the outset. You need to be very clear about what exactly is it you want to achieve.
- Describe and formulate the change well. Evaluate whether it is doable, what resources it would take, is it beneficial for the organization and how. Once you are clear about its full scope, make it understandable, so as to be able to explain it to others. Make sure you prepare your arguments. Well-argued change is a semi-implemented change.
- Plan your path to the goal in stages and grade your efforts. Change happens less painfully and with least turmoil when done gradually and in small steps.
- Involve others. It will take a lot of efforts, discussions, etc., and sometimes onboarding like-minded people will happen individually.
- Don’t be afraid to answer questions and be prepared to justify your points. That’s an important part of the path to your goal. The proof points you’ve prepared will come in very handy here.
- Expand the range. Start your quest with the people you know inside your organization and the ones you know you share ideas with. Consistently recruit other colleagues, peers, opinion leaders, etc. who will help you reach the goal.
- Make sure your line manager understands and backs your plan. It’s not a good idea to go on your own.
- Build understanding and try challenging some certain attitudes. The clearer you explain what you want to achieve, the more confidently and tirelessly you will do it (leading by example), the more support you will receive, and gradually people will accept your cause as their own.
- When you reach a critical point of accumulation, formalize the process by effectively involving management in it. This is a key moment for the implementation of the change you want because this is the moment when you turn the idea into a structured and delineated corporate proposal. You must convince the broader management that you have considered its various aspects and potential influence on the company. Bringing senior members on board at this point is the only way to get advocacy when you need it most – the decision-making point.
- Create a crisp and clear strategic proposal. This is your proposal to the CEO/ respective decision maker/s. It should include the experience gained from your work with colleagues on the project, the rationale behind discussions with the management, and the added value the company will gain by implementing the change.
- Present your proposal and win consent. This is the second key point – convincing the person(s) who will make the final decision.
- Introduce change and develop it over time. This is the third key moment when you are embarking on the path you yourself have taken.
- Reward yourself for a job well done. This is mandatory and non-negotiable.
Of course, these steps are provisional and do not offer a magic formula for success, but they could help you put your thoughts and actions in order. The key to effecting change lies in a combination of factors – personal and contextual. Communication is the soldering element without which your mission would be much more difficult. While communications seem a deceptively easy discipline, you might be very surprised when you find yourself in a situation practicing it. In times of need of communications support, I ask you not to rely on your general knowledge of the subject, but rather lean on the advice and help of professionals with good reputation.
And finally, going back to the beginning – change starts with one person. And the potential to be a change bearer lies within each one of us. So don’t be afraid of failing. Simply try. One thing is for sure – if you try, your chance of success is already 50% higher than if you do not try. And when you succeed for the first time, please write down what Churchill said somewhere prominently: “Success is never final and failure never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”