Communication, Engagement, and Enrollment – Three Components for Successful Change

In too many engagements over the past few years, I’ve run across “Organizational Change Management Plans” that are more so communication plans with a marketing spin. It’s as if we can create change just by telling people in a convincing enough way that the new behaviors the organization seeks are cutting edge, best-practice compliant, and successfully used everywhere but here. If that were true, no one would smoke and no one would drink. Over the years, evidence has continued to be communicated that quitting smoking and moderating alcohol intake are best practices for good health, yet many people still smoke and drink… some of us with great gusto! It’s not January 1st, so I’m not trying to solve the smoking and drinking challenge, but that challenge is similar to organizational change – both require people to do behave differently. The point above applies to both challenges – telling people what they need to do, however convincing you can be, isn’t enough.
In addition to communicating with the organization, you need to account for cultural context and also create ownership. Here are three organizational change components that can help you do that:

  • Communication
  • Engagement
  • Enrollment.


People need to understand what’s expected of them. Communication activities are those activities that you use to convey messages about the change to the organization. Communication is a two-way street and the return lane will let you know whether you’re delivering your message effectively. The return lane is the informal and formal feedback you gain after you’ve delivered your message. It often happens that what we’re saying is not what the organization is hearing. A rule of thumb I was taught is to communicate “7X7”. That is, deliver each message seven different ways, seven different times. The volume of communication may or may not be the answer but without feedback loops, you won’t be able to tell if your message is getting through. Communication is necessary, but definitely not sufficient. You also need engagement and enrollment.


Do you know the “best” way to accomplish a task in any given organization? I’ve worked in technology shops for over 25 years and I have yet to meet any person who does. Of course, we understand best practice frameworks, best practices, and techniques that have worked elsewhere, but someone in the organization is doing something today that works in this particular context. Culture matters and we know that best practices exist, but part of the equation is that best practices may exist internally, given cultural context. As a change agent, part of your responsibility is to find “what’s working” and help spread these gems to the rest of the organization. This is true whether you’re in the diagnosis phase or the “dazed and confused” phase that follows initial solution deployment. Engaging the organization is the mechanism for helping to understand these gems. Engagement activities are those activities that get people involved in deciding what to do and how to do it. Without engaging the people doing the work, you risk deploying best practices that step on things that work in the organization.


How much ownership do you have of things someone else does? Think about it. If you build something, you understand it and you have pride in it. A person who takes “ownership” of their work is someone who adopts their duties as if they were their own, rather than thinking about the tasks as being something they do because their manager or company requires it. As part of any change effort, you need ownership of the new design within the organization. One of my mentors used to say “the more discretion required on the part of the employees to perform the new process, the more ownership that’s required for the change to be successful.” I don’t know about you but I haven’t been in an organization in a long time that hasn’t required significant discretion on the part of the employee to perform the work – we’re knowledge workers. Enrollment is the mechanism for achieving this ownership. Enrollment activities are those activities that put some of the change work in the hands of the people who will perform the work long after the change effort concludes. To learn more about Organizational Change Mangement, please visit Cask’s Transformation Services