Justin Bieber - Change Agent

By Scott Franklin

As an avid music fan and the father of three daughters, it has been a losing effort to escape the ubiquitous presence of the pop sensation Justin Bieber. Currently celebrating the 2nd anniversary of my 50th birthday, I regretfully find myself relieved of command of the automotive entertainment unit (the radio) and therefore at the mercy of the musical choices of a younger generation. As I listen to Mssr. Bieber's massive hit ‘Baby’, there are many reasons that I find the song difficult to appreciate including the simplistic melody, the single octave vocal performance and, most annoying, realizing that someone learning how to shave is offering advice on relationships. Video games – sure, relationships – not so much.

As a change agent, however, our teen singer understands a critical change principle of effective communications – repetition. In his song, young Justin repeats the phrase “Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh” exactly 18 times (and once in the bridge) and while I may not be a fan of the song, he has effectively communicated his message – which in this case is apparently his deep and unfailing love for a girl whose name he is unable to remember.

When changing an organization, the people affected are hungry for information; however what we find is that their hearing is very selective. To illustrate this I use a workshop exercise where I have the participants read a short, simple company announcement. After reading the announcement, they are asked to answer 5 questions:

  1. What is changing?
  2. Why is the change necessary?
  3. How is the organization affected?
  4. How does the change affect you?
  5. What is your new email address?

The participants are asked to re-read the announcement and revise their answers as necessary, then read it one more time for a total of three iterations. What invariably happens is:

  1. The first iteration, question 4 is answered correctly,
  2. The second iteration, question 1 and question 3 are answered correctly,
  3. The third iteration, question 2 and question 5 are answered correctly.

What this exercise shows is that when initially informed of change, the employees’ focus is primarily on “How does this change affect me” and very little additional information is absorbed. In the second iteration, the focus is on organizational aspects of the change and the third iteration focuses on why the change is necessary and details of the change.

Studies have shown that the optimal communication of a message is 5 to 7 times before it is truly understood. Straying from the Justin Beiber analogy, this does NOT mean hitting ‘send’ 6 times on the same email since sending the same message in the same way is not particularly effective either. What it does mean is that what seems like repetition to you is actually new information to the employees because they didn’t hear you the first time. So mix it up – use different people and different methods to repeat the message so that your people have a chance to hear all of the information. Team meetings, email, conference calls, etc. – all these methods are useful and provide both reinforcement and repetition.

(And I apologize if, like me, you can’t get ‘Baby, Baby, Baby, Oh’ unstuck from your head, but then again leading change has always been a hazardous undertaking…)

With over 20 years experience in organizational design, change management, and delivering sustainable improvements, Scott is a well-respected authority on organizational change, specializing in the leadership responsibilities of change management. Scott is a Prosci-certified change management professional and a certified trainer for Prosci’s change management programs. He brings specific expertise in the areas of creating a combined learning organization in parallel with a strengths-based organization, while simultaneously creating a culture of execution. You can reach Scott at [email protected].

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