Technology can help ease the pain when corporations change

Streaming video can open communication channels and manage expectations

In business today, there are two concepts everyone can accept: Change is inevitable, and communication is vital to success.

Unfortunately, knowing about the concepts doesn’t mean that it’s easy to implement them. Jackson Nickerson, the Frahm Family Professor of Organization and Strategy at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, says that because of information technology and the rate at which most firms are expanding globally, the problem of implementing and adjusting to change is especially difficult.

Streaming video can make for a very authentic form of communication
Streaming video can make for a very authentic form of communication

“Technology may have been a contributing factor, but it can also be used to help bring about effective change,” Nickerson says. “The other piece of the puzzle is establishing trust and understanding between a firm’s leader and employees. The way we build trust and understanding is by having a conversation — a real conversation that includes listening just as much as talking.”

However, with employees dispersed around the globe, having that conversation can be difficult. The answer to solving the problem is something Nickerson calls “Changecasting.”

“We use technology that has exacerbated the problem to solve the problem. Company leaders should use two- to five-minute streaming videos once a week, or once every other week, to convey single messages to the workforce,” Nickerson says.

Using streaming video is necessary but not sufficient to the processes, he says. Streaming video technology uses a secure company website to host video messages. Users (in this case, employees,) can launch videos at their leisure. Videos remain available on the site as long as the company desires, allowing employees to re-view them at any time. Streaming video allows the employees not only to hear the message audibly, but also to see emotions on a leader’s face. It can make for a very authentic form of communication.

“All too often, people get memos or e-mails that are impersonal and are easy to misinterpret,” Nickerson says. “Memos, e-mails and even lectures also lack another critical component of Changecasting: anonymous feedback.

Jackson Nickerson

The other part of the process involves anonymous feedback. “With a truly anonymous way for people to e-mail the leader their thoughts, a true conversation can be established, and it’s that conversation that builds the trust and understanding that help facilitate change,” Nickerson says.

Among the keys to maximizing the effectiveness of Changecasting is to follow specific parameters, Nickerson says.

• Deliver a single message as briefly as possible — never more than five minutes.

• Be authentic.

• Look directly into the camera.

• Provide an anonymous way to send feedback.

Jackson notes several examples of firms that implemented the idea. Those firms that enjoyed the most success in managing their change were those that followed the Changecast rules.

“One CEO was so successful that when he missed a week, people were stopping him in the halls, asking him not to stop sending out the messages,” Nickerson says. “Changecasting a rich medium for letting people know what’s going on, explaining why things are happening and receiving constructive and honest feedback.”

Editor’s note: Professor Nickerson is available for live or taped interviews using Washington University’s free VYVX or ISDN lines. Please contact Shula Neuman at (314) 935-5202 for assistance.