How to Engage Customers for Change
Customer-Centricity in Solution-Focused Change Processes
by Susanne Burgstaller
Solution-Focused change agents need to engage the people in the organisation as “customers for change”. How can this be achieved?
Customer-centricity has always been central to Solution-Focus. Steve de Shazer, the inventor of Solution-Focus, is reported to have stormed into a seminar room and – without saying a word - written on a flipchart: “What does the customer want?” My colleague Ferdinand Wolf still has the flipchart to prove it! What Steve de Shazer meant was that the therapist needs to help the client to define his or her wants, and then support her steps towards realizing them.
- The “external” customers or clients in the market. Clearly any organisational change or re-design must always put their needs and concerns centre stage.
- The “internal” customers or stakeholders who need to be found and engaged for any change or transformation to even be possible. Equally important, but often ignored, they are the focus of this article.
This is clearly more helpful than to assume that everyone will resist. In most change situations some “customers for change” can be found quite early on. My colleagues Mark McKergow and Jenny Clarke call them the “green people”(1): their traffic light is set for green as far as the change is concerned. So that is step one: spotting the “green people” and harnessing their readiness for action.
However, in large organisations we are confronted with many, many diverse people. In such situations it is highly necessary to consider the different attitudes and needs of the many and often diverse target groups we are addressing. We can´t treat everyone the same.
So how to deal with those whose traffic light is still on amber or even red? In short:
How do we deal with people so that they become “customers for change”?
We can safely assume that this will be the case if some or most of the following conditions are fulfilled:
- She is informed about the change. Ideally early, regularly and openly.
- She understands the reasons for it.
- She trusts the people who propose it.
- She can imagine what might be different after the change
- and what this might mean for her.
- She can see that it might make a positive difference to her life, her team, her clients and her organisation.
- groups of potential “customers for change” do we have in the organization?
- What are their questions, concerns, hopes or fears?
- Which differences between them make a difference to their attitudes to the envisioned change?
- What do they stand to gain or lose by the change?
- Do we already have some early customers for change? If so:
- what small steps can we take to bring them on board?