Effective Change Communication - Veit Etzold - E-Book

Effective Change Communication E-Book

Veit Etzold



Change has become a bone of contention in organisations in recent years. The reality is, however, that any business seeking to survive in a VUCA world must master the accompanying challenges: digital transformation, changing customer behaviour and more. Moreover, the success of any new strategy depends on successful storytelling. Only with the right communication is it possible to get all stakeholders in a company - from the body of employees to the board of directors - pulling in the same direction and realising the necessary changes with full force. This guidebook explains why people are naturally averse to change, how to develop a clear change strategy, how to find the right story for the right stakeholders and how to use metaphors to bring a story to life and convince your audience.

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Veit Etzold

30 Minutes

Effective ChangeCommunication

Bibliographic information from the German National Library The German National Library lists this publication in the German National Bibliography. Detailed bibliographic information can be found online at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

© 2021 GABAL Verlag GmbH, Offenbach

The e-book is based on the 2021 book title “Effective Change Communication” by Veit Etzold © 2021 GABAL Verlag GmbH, Offenbach.

ISBN Buchausgabe: 978-3-96739-058-2

ISBN epub: 978-3-96740-141-7

Cover design: Martin Zech Design, Bremen

Translation: Hanna Campbell, London

Copyediting: Anja Hilgarth, Herzogenaurach

Author portrait: Pietro Sutera

Typesetting: Zerosoft, Timisoara

First published under the title “30 Minuten Wandel kommunizie-ren” in 2020 by GABAL Verlag, Germany

© 2021 Dr. Veit Etzold

All rights reserved. Reproduction, including in part, is only permitted with the written permission of the publisher.


Know more in 30 minutes!

This concise, reliable guide is designed to enable you to get to grips quickly with the topic at hand. A system of signposts guides you through the chapters, allowing you to pick up the basics in slots of 10 to 30 minutes at a time.

A quick, manageable read

The entire book is intended to be readable in just 30 minutes. If you don’t have 30 minutes, you can focus on the sections that contain the most relevant information for you.

Key information is shown in grey.

Key questions with page numbers at the beginning of each chapter allow you to navigate quickly through the book – simply turn to the page you need to bridge existing gaps in your knowledge.

Regular content summaries within each chapter facilitate rapid skim-reading…

… while a ‘Fast Reader’ at the end of the book summarizes the most important points.

Finally, an index at the end of the book enables you to look up particular terms as needed.



1. Change is a ‘necessary evil’

Strategy and change

How communication usually happens (and why it goes wrong)

Change and innovation

Newness as a double-edged sword

2. The change story

A problem for every solution

Change cannot exist in a vacuum

From strategy to story

3. Allies for your change project

The stakeholder matrix

How much do you know about the people you’re talking to?

4. Explaining change clearly

Three tried-and-tested basic plots

Real-life stories as analogies for your strategy

You’ve read the book – now it’s time for change

Fast Reader

About the Author

Further Reading


Digital transformation, the ascension of new major players (China and others) to the geopolitical stage, millennial-driven changes in consumer behaviour and the increasing demands of shareholders require us and our companies to become continuously better – and thus to find new and different ways of working.

Unfortunately, this challenge is not one that can be met by sticking our heads in the sand and hoping for the best. Those who do not change proactively will be changed whether they like it or not. Either we take control and secure a seat at the table, or we end up on the menu.

Against this background, it is not sufficient for you, as a manager, board member or company founder, to merely acknowledge the importance of this cultural shift. Instead, your challenge is to take your employees and other stakeholders with you – because whether you want to drum up enthusiasm for a project, implement a strategy or sell a new product, you must be able to win others over to your goal.Leadership is about getting others to strive towards a common objective, ideally with readiness and willingness to do so. Clear communication of the need for change is the best approach to meeting this challenge, and a good story is the best tool at your disposal. Irrespective of what you’re trying to achieve, it is vital that you tell a story. Communication cannot occur in a vacuum. If you fail to tell a positive story about your change project, others will be quick to swoop in with negative ones: a phenomenon better known as ‘speculation and gossip’. This book can help you tell the right story from the outset. It’s designed to show how you, as a leader, can communicate change projects unambiguously and with success. This involves:

1.Mapping out a clear change strategy;

2.Developing the right story to communicate your strategy and creating a sense of drama and urgency;

3.Addressing the right stakeholders; and

4.Making creative use of metaphors to illustrate your story.

I wish you plentiful success and enjoyment (yes – both are possible!) with your own programme of transformation and change.

Prof. Dr. Veit Etzold

1.Change is a ‘necessary evil’

When it comes to the subject of change, leadership coaches and retired managers are fond of propagating a rose-tinted picture: that employees exist in a state of perpetual impatience for the next organizational change. Unfortunately, this is something of a fallacy. People are creatures of habit, and so long as their current reality is in some way tolerable, they see no need for major upheaval. The saying ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ is not only one beloved of IT departments around the world. Yet whatever we feel about it, the fact of the matter is that organizations must engage in ongoing change in order to remain viable. Moreover, such change should not only be triggered as a last resort and fire-fighting measure, since if this is the case, it is probable that any willingness for change will be hindered by a lack of resources to actually achieve it. Equally misguided is the belief that change and transformation were made necessary only by the advent of digitalization. Successful companies and organizations have been evolving constantly for hundreds of years, and successful change has been decisive for their survival.

1.1Strategy and change

There is an old saying in the consultancy business that ‘those who refuse to change will be changed whether they like it or not.’ More succinctly: ‘Have lunch or be lunch.’ If a company has a pioneering product, it can dominate the market for many years – but if it clings too steadfastly to its previous accomplishments, it may be precisely this antiquated formula for success that leads to its demise. Consider, for example, how French knights’ heavy armour – so advantageous in hand-to-hand combat – became an instant liability with the innovation of the crossbow bolt. Whenever a bolt would penetrate the metal plating, the knight would be pinned helplessly to the ground due to the metal’s weight.

An uncomfortable world

Thanks to digitalization, the rapid pace of technological advancement, the effects of networking and the emergence of new powers (China and others), the average lifespan of a company is shorter than ever before. Most fail to make it to half the lifespan of the average human (Senge, 1990, p.17). Pentagon strategists speak of a ‘VUCA world’: one characterized by volatility (fluctuating trends, increasing numbers of crises, 1998, 2001, 2007, 2010 …), uncertainty (Trump, Brexit), complexity (global networks) and ambiguity (e.g. Facebook, where the ‘customer’ is also a provider of data, and thus their role is complex and multifaceted).

In a recent interview with the author, Peter Gerber, CEO of Lufthansa Cargo, named what he sees as the greatest challenges for senior managers (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OSjtDNPCjI&t=439s=). These were:

a) the need to set out a coherent strategy;

b) the need to be able to adapt this strategy to a great number of different stakeholders without compromising its coherence; and

c) the need – both before the strategy is implemented, and during it – to be able to make far-reaching decisions on a frequent basis, under high time pressure and without an adequate pool of data.

No-one can deny that we live in uncomfortable times. It is better, then, to effect change of our own volition than to wait for a competitor to serve us up for lunch. Strategy plays a fundamental role in this proactive approach, since it crystallizes the way in which we intend to meet a certain goal.

Strategy as the path to the goal

Strategy lays out the way in which we plan to achieve a goal. If we want to reach the top of a mountain, we can hike there, take a cable car or parachute down onto the summit. Just as with a company strategy, the strategy is based on the opportunities available. The parachute is the quickest method, but is also the most expensive. Hiking up the mountain, on the other hand, is cheap and good for fitness. A good strategy is not just aligned to the goal, but tailored to those who wish to achieve it.

Within a strategy, the individual measures that form the path to the goal are the tactical steps. In the above example, the first step might be to look for a pair of hiking boots. The second might be to gather equipment; the third might be to set out on the route. In many cases, the individual tactical steps do not immediately reveal the broader strategic goal. If you boarded an aircraft and jumped out of it with a parachute, onlookers would be unlikely to guess that your intention was to reach the summit. In the business world, such ambiguity might usefully be pursued deliberately so as to confuse your competitors about your intentions. Bruce Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and a pioneer of strategy as a discipline, defined strategy as the subtle, long-range management of a system over a lengthy period. Some 2500 years ago, Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu had already articulated the same idea: “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”

Examples of change and strategy

In the context of strategic studies, corporate strategy refers to everything that takes place on the holding level. This could, for example, be the decision to go public (see Uber), the decision to enter brick-and-mortar retail (see Amazon), the decision to rethink a product line (see German meat producer Rügenwalder Mühle’s plans to begin offering vegetarian sausages), the decision to participate in a company acquisition (see Monsanto’s acquisition by Bayer for 50 billion euros in 2016), the decision to found a joint venture (see the partnership deal signed between Lufthansa and Air China in 2016) or the decision to enter a new market (see the US market launch of car rental company Sixt a few years ago). Below the holding level are various strategic business units (SBUs) whose remits are defined by the business strategy. Let’s take the example of an automotive supplier. The ‘Production’ unit may decide to outsource parts of its production operations to Romania, the ‘Procurement’ unit may decide to establish a global sourcing centre, and the ‘Marketing’ unit may decide to introduce a new customer relationship management (CRM) system for its customers.

All of these examples have one thing in common: they involve changes that are uncomfortable and unwelcome for many involved. Because of this, these changes must be decisively and sustainably anchored among the leaders and employees who will be required to carry them out.

The art of persuasion: communicating with employees

In many cases, your tactical steps should be executed such that they are not apparent to your competitors. Within your own organization, it’s a different story – which is to say, it’s vital to take your employees with you. You must always be able to persuade others of what you want to achieve. The Ancient Romans differentiated between potestas, the power held by officials by virtue of their office, and auctoritas