Westco - Blog images (2)-Nov-27-2023-05-43-17-9513-AM


It is estimated that some 70% of change programmes fail to deliver. This is no surprise to us as we know that change is extremely difficult. Below is an example of the change process for moving a largely reactive communications team to an 80% proactive one.

We have adopted Kotters 8 steps to change as a model to highlight some issues to talk through. We also use other models but the Kotters model lends itself to urgency.

Its important to recognise that all organisations are different and this is just an example of some of the barriers and drivers to successful change. None the less, we have seen that if you don’t put the effort into all of these 8 of Kotter’s steps, you will not become part of the 30% of successful change.

Table 1. Kotters 8 steps to change from 80% reactive to 80% proactive communications team

Kotters 8 steps


Westco tips   

01. Create A Sense of Urgency

Inspire people to act – with passion and purpose – to achieve a bold, aspirational opportunity. Build momentum that excites people to pursue a compelling (and clear) vision of the future… together.


Understand why change is necessary and urgent, and gain commitment from those supporting and delivering it.


Use a SWOT and PESTLE analysis or other tools to draw out why change is needed. Show that reactive communication teams do not use resources effectively on priorities of organisations.


Use Westco diagnostics on high-performing communications teams and benchmarks to show how proactive teams deliver better reputation metrics for councils.


Engage C-Suite and Leader and Cabinet to put the case for change to 80% proactive communications.


Workshops and employee discussion. Explain clearly why the status quo is not an option and the consequences to the team or business of not going through the change programme.


Gain support from at least 75% of the management team.


To gain excitement for change is not easy. Only 30% of change projects deliver what was intended.


It is at this stage that much of the 70% of failure occurs because the case for change is not made clearly and authentically, and fails to get buy in from across the organisation.


Each member of the C-Suite and communications management team must be able to understand what this means for them.


They have to believe that change is urgent, achievable and imperative.


Communications Teams that are 80% reactive will be exhausted by the amount of unplanned work and the unstructured way it is commissioned – usually who shouts loudest and where they are in the hierarchy. Teams in this situation need to believe that the change programme will help overcome this.  


There will be some that do NOT believe this but as long as you have at least 75% majority, you can manage ‘non believers’. As momentum picks up, even they will be swept along with tide of change – if we get it right.

02. Build A Guiding Coalition

A volunteer network needs a coalition of committed people – born of its own ranks – to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.


The success of the change to 80% proactive communications team will depend on buy in from the right level within the organisation and a motivated team to deliver change.


Sponsor. This change has to be supported by the CEX, C-Suite and the politicians. Change will require senior managers in councils understanding that their projects will be affected but improved through proactive planning. Cabinet members need to believe the change will help them deliver in a more effective way.  As prioritisation of projects inevitably takes place, it will cause bumps in the road and so this sponsorship for change will be essential to act corporately and smooth out issues as they arise.


Communications Senior Leadership Team.  Depending on size and complexity, this usually consists of Head of Media, Head of Marketing/ Campaigns; Head of Internal Communications and Digital Lead. This team will set the vision, allocate resources, motivate employees, resolve issues and drive change.


It will be imperative that both the sponsors and the Communications team have:


·         Clear understanding of why change is necessary

·         Clear mission and vision and metrics to evaluate progress against

·         Understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each group

·         Trust and communications that each are working towards the corporate benefit





So much change from 80% reactive to 80% proactive falters when competing demands within the organisation throw the change off course.


The sponsorship team is essential in supporting the change process in this regard. It must understand that projects will be prioritised and aligned to the corporate plan.


Where competition for communications resources appears, C-Suite and Politicians should agree a process for resource allocation prioritisation. If needed, agreement to bring in additional resources should be made.


Both the Sponsor and Communications Team need to have good communication with each other, trust in the process and support each other corporately.


Failure to set these teams up with the right level of sponsorship and delivery with the right level of buy in and communication will inevitably fail to deliver change.

03. Form A Strategic Vision

Clarify how the future will be different from the past and get buy-in for how you can make that future a reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.


This is a crucial and resource intensive piece of work. In order to achieve the move to 80% proactive, you need to set out what that delivers in terms of corporate communications.


The Communications Strategy and Delivery plan for the council sets this out. It will be aligned to the organisation’s corporate priorities and core values.  


There are different methodologies on how to go about communication planning for councils dependent on the time available, the maturity of planning processes and buy in from the organisation. Westco has different methodologies to fit each scenario. It’s crucial whichever method is used to draw out the following.


Political and Executive Directors Priorities. In a perfect world, these should be the same. Each organisation is different, but by working with both politicians and Directors, the Director of Communications should be able to draw out and prioritise proactive projects for the year.


Corporate priorities. Reputation management and organisational development should be factored into the proactive plan.


Reactive resources. The communications strategy and delivery plan will also include 20% of reactive resources.


The more detailed this plan is the better clarity between C-Suite, Politicians and the Communications Team about what will be delivered and when. The plan should include a resource allocation plan, Cabinet members priority deliverables, reputation management, corporate channels management and evaluation. It will be the ‘go to’ document to help inform competing requests for scarce resources so must be signed off by both Sponsor and Communications groups.  



Failure of change occurs often when the Sponsorship group doesn’t take this process as seriously as it should.


The process of planning is as much about behaviour change from all involved than it is about prioritisation. Planning means a commitment to focus resources and attention on the plan and any additional requests for communications resources and how that is commissioned needs to be fully understood by all parties.


Failure to change will occur even if you have an excellent plan but behaviours continue as if you were still an 80% reactive organisation.


The vision and delivery plan is also vital in that it can be used to demonstrate to the Communications Team how the future will be different. This will then be used to motivate them to make the necessary commitments and sacrifices necessary to deliver change.


The future will look different as the SLT manages workflow and protects the team to develop proactive communications at speed. Be very clear that for this to work the team will be managed to be highly productive. Things will, if anything, get busier but more productive and professionally more satisfying.  




04. Enlist A Volunteer Army

Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity. At an individual level, they must want to actively contribute. Collectively, they must be unified in the pursuit of achieving the goal together.


Talk the talk and walk the walk.


This is why at least 75% of the Communications Senior Management Team need to buy into the vision and plan.


The volunteer army will begin to march once you provide them with a reason to enlist and leadership demonstrates the behavoiurs and benefits of change.


Communicate the vision on a daily basis. It should be embedded into everyday decision making.


Demonstrate the behaviours of change from the top down – daily.


Director and Head of Communications needs to be visible and vocal in the protection of the team by managing up and motivating down.  


Create an environment where failure is treated as a learning experience and people are encouraged to move fast and try new things but supported by active coaching and management to minimise risks.


SLT work hard with coaching in the moment, training, and creating an atmosphere where failure is part of the learning process, but momentum is key.


Move from ‘I’ve been told to do this’ to ‘I want to do this’. Basically giving people autonomy to succeed and coaching to help them get there.


Those that don’t believe in the mission or don’t take the opportunity should be managed.


The team need to see the right behaviour rewarded and wrong behaviour tackled.


70% of change programmes fail because they are hard to deliver. It takes resilience and determination to every day drive change forward and demonstrate behaviour needed especially when barriers are put in the way.


But if you get it right, the small platoons of volunteers will grow into a critical mass of army of change agents.


05. Enable Action By Removing Barriers

Remove the obstacles that slow things down or create roadblocks to progress. Clear the way for people to innovate, work more nimbly across silos, and generate impact quickly.


There will be many barriers and obstacles in the way of change. These could be organisation wide, process driven or psychological.


Overcoming obstacles is made much easier if the preceding steps have been successfully achieved.


Have a strong Sponsor group and clarity through the vision and a delivery plan that will help you overcome many barriers.


1.       Correctly identify the barrier.

2.       Use a coalition of Sponsor groups and a Communications team to identify solutions.

3.       Be visible to your team in overcoming barriers quickly.

4.       Give confidence that momentum is supported by all groups. 



Barriers can come in many forms. Employees resistant to change, ‘computer says no’ processes, competition for your resources, breakdown in C-Suite commitment to the agreed vision and plan, or underperformance.


If you do not tackle these barriers quickly and visibly, the effect on momentum will be catastrophic.


Urgency and momentum is a big part of change. If this is interrupted, then teams will drift back to the old ways of working and habits they feel most comfortable with.


The buy-in and coalitions you have formed in previous steps should be able to arm you with support to overcome institutional drag or deviation from the agreed vision and plan.


You will also need to overcome psychological barriers from within your own team. Motivation and resource allocation will be incredibly important to overcome the ’scarcity mindset’. Hard pressed communications teams that have worked under competing demands for their time commissioned in unstructured ways will be exhausted and believe there is not enough time to do any of the change.


You need to put the processes and the protection in place to enable the team to overcome this mindset. STOP unproductive meetings. STOP doing things that are not in the plan. Be very visible in protecting the team from old corporate behaviours not aligned to the change programme.  


06. Generate Short-Term Wins

Wins are the molecules of results. They must be recognized, collected, and communicated – early and often – to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.


Use short-term wins to maintain momentum and to celebrate the right behaviours.


These should be demonstrable wins and should be celebrated as means towards greater ends.


Put in place some metrics that will help you demonstrate the wins.


Present informal case studies at huddles or team meetings.


Set up regular reporting mechanisms for C-Suite and Elected Members



A simple but useful set of metrics around the change will help not only to prove to the greater organisation that change is worth the effort but also to show the team at regular intervals that their effort is making a difference.


We need to regularly celebrate successes to enable the momentum of change to be fuelled by ‘I want to do this’ rather than ‘I’ve been told to do this’.


Celebrate wins regularly either in management meetings; huddles; end of day brush-ups or whenever appropriate.

07. Sustain Acceleration

Press harder after the first successes. Your increasing credibility can improve systems, structures and policies. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.


Don’t waste success. If your new ways of working have proved successful, ensure that they become habits. Change the processes around your successes and empower those that made the change to make more suggestions.


Get the team into the habit of making change happen by rewarding success and celebrating professional improvement.


Leadership should genuinely be excited by the improvements and be visible in this excitement.



Remember to foster ‘I want to do this’ not ‘I’ve been told to do this’.


If you get this right, success will be its own motivator and teams will pick up the habit of wanting to do more and change.


Leadership then needs to encourage and create the supportive environment for that to happen rather than being directorial.



08. Institute Change

Articulate the connections between new behaviors and organizational success, making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits. Evaluate systems and processes to ensure management practices reinforce the new behaviors, mindsets, and ways of working you invested in.


If you get the other steps right, it will become apparent what processes, structures, and behaviours are working to deliver change at pace.


You should now institutionalise those changes.


Work into your behavioural recruitment and set the bar high


Review your evaluation and reporting to C-Suite and politicians


Work behaviours into performance development


Set op celebratory social norms to continuously talk about change behaviours


Work the change drivers into your training and development


We have seen change programs even in this late stage fall back into old habits.


The desire for teams to go back to what is comfortable is strong if change is not continuously nurtured and then embedded into the DNA of the organisation and teams.


Those that succeed work through each and every facet of the team and embed processes and structures that will actively support the behaviours you have developed.


Be careful not to place restrictions by over templating or proscribing processes. If the behaviours that supported successful change are agile, brave, creative and providing autonomy, then over proscription may kill this off once people leave and new recruits come in.


It is more important to build and maintain the framework and environment that nurtures change.  



Westco has worked with over 40 organisations to review communications and make recommendations of how to become more productive and proactive. We have witnessed change programmes that have delivered recommendations seamlessly but also many that have failed to fully deliver the desired outcomes.


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