Change Communication: Visual Design Lessons From Apple

Let’s go back in time. Way back to 1997. Apple’s high-flying identity as a tech innovator had been seriously tarnished. It certainly wasn’t the global tech giant it is today, with a massive, loyal customer base and an iconic brand image.

Actually, Apple was struggling so badly that it had only 90 days of cash remaining in the bank. And that’s when Steve Jobs turned the Titanic around by asking this tough, strategic question: “Who is Apple and where do we fit into this world?”

After some serious soul-searching, the company reduced its product line and launched a groundbreaking ad campaign: Think different.

This campaign was so successful it continued for five years, returning Apple to profitability and reestablishing Apple as a brand juggernaut. In fact, Apple won the Grand Effie Award in 2000 for the most effective advertising campaign in America.

What stood out about this campaign? Aside from the beautiful black and white photos of legendary “crazy ones,” it made technology feel personal and exciting. Apple customers wanted to join this tribe of crazy ones because they could relate.

During times of change, we tend to focus on facts and figures. Apple could have easily taken that approach by listing its products’ technical specifications. But Steve Jobs knew he had to think differently. He had to build an emotional connection with Apple’s audience.

What can we learn from this story? As internal communicators, let’s look at what happens when you pull emotional threads as you communicate about change within an organization.

Change Communication: A Step-by-Step Scenario

John - fictitious internal comms professionalI’d like to introduce you to John, a fictional internal communicator. He works at a large pharmaceutical company and is gearing up for a massive company transformation — a new strategy that will change the way employees work.

John is tasked with getting employees on board and excited. Just as Steve Jobs did, John understands that the emotional aspect of organizational change is just as important as helping people understand the details. To help employees feel more deeply connected with this change, he decides to emphasize imagery and visual design.

Here’s John’s creative journey and the advice we would give him at each stage in the process:

Stage 1: Kickoff

The Challenge: Before jumping into design, John needs to align with broader objectives so he can define what communication about this transformation should accomplish. He has a group of stakeholders to consider, but first, he needs to achieve consensus on what employees should know, feel, and do as a result of this transformation process.

Change Communications Process - Kickoff

Our Advice: The best way to align on an end goal is to bring all key players together. That could include leaders, project owners, change and/or communication teams, and cross-functional partners such as IT and HR.

To discuss, collaborate, and agree on objectives, design a meeting around these important questions:

  • How does the change impact employees?
  • What do employees need to know about this change?
  • How should employees feel about this transformation before, during, and after?
  • What do employees need to do differently to ensure this change is successful?

Answers to these questions will shape communication objectives. Once these priorities are clear, John is ready to consider how visual communication will help the message resonate with employees and showcase the change. (For example, visual elements may include a campaign logo and tagline, imagery or photo styles, type treatments, supplemental art, and other details.)

What would Steve Jobs do? Treat employees like customers. Explore who they are, what their work context is, and what kind of symbols and messaging are most likely to engage, persuade, and motivate them.

Stage 2: Creating the Visuals

The Challenge: John wants employees to connect to the transformation, and he knows a visual identity can accomplish that and more. He sets out to ensure the transformation feels relevant, familiar, and personal, so it is easier to understand, internalize, and support.

Change Communications Process - Creating Visuals

Our Advice: Visuals can help you attract attention, influence perceptions, and leave a lasting, meaningful impression. Here are three ways to get there:

  • Share the change story — Because stories influence how we feel about change, they are the antidote to facts and figures. Layer on images and you can offer a more accessible way to bring big concepts to life. Think of these images as shortcuts that help employees understand what’s happening, why it’s happening, and why it’s important for them.
  • Make communication recognizable — Because change initiatives are usually one of many other things happening within an organization, communication needs to stand out and be easy for employees to identify. By consistently leveraging custom graphics, a distinctive logo, and a punchy tagline, your materials can break through the noise and invite employees to engage.
  • Break down complex topics — The human brain processes visual cues 60,000 times faster than written language. Put another way, highly visual communication makes it easier for employees to consume information and retain it. For example, illustrating a new process or using icons to break down a strategy can build knowledge and reinforce actions.

What would Steve Jobs do? Turn brainstorming on its head. Instead of spitballing words, draw illustrations or curate visuals. This exercise will pinpoint the emotion and tone you want to represent throughout your change communications. Use these ideas to focus on creating simple, memorable visuals.

Stage 3: Making it Stick

The Challenge: John knows that successful change communication depends on how well you prepare people who are responsible for sharing critical information. Everyone needs to understand which materials and assets are available, why these visual tools have been developed, and how to use them.

Change Communications Process - Making it Stick

Our Advice: Consistency is key when it comes to communicating during change. A standard package of communication resources and recommendations helps all stakeholders deliver a consistent experience for employees. Here are three examples:

  • User Guide — This document (including imagery, logo, tagline, colors, and fonts) prepares people in communication roles by providing access to visual assets and specifying how they can be applied.
  • Templates — These standard tools bring together various elements in a cohesive context. (This could include a PowerPoint deck, Word document, video opening/closing, logo/tagline files, digital signs, printed flyers/posters, and more).
  • Communication Plan — This playbook should explain when, where, why, and how to use each piece in the toolkit, and how they fit into the broader change process.

What would Steve Jobs do? Take the opportunity to express the importance of change tools by meeting with key stakeholders to reinforce the strategic objectives, explain how each element supports these goals, and answer questions about how to move forward.


More Visual Design Ideas to Elevate Change Communication

When using visuals to support change communication, it’s not just about sharing information. It’s about connecting with employees on a deeper level and making the change process meaningful to them. So the next time you’re tasked with a change campaign, ask yourself: How can I tap into employees’ emotions? What do I want this campaign to represent? How can I think differently?

For our advice on how to design more effective change communications, download these tips:
>> 3 Steps to Make Change Communication More Visual

An Algorithm Couldn't Have Hired Steve Jobs

Here’s the plan: buy the newest, greatest HR software that’s part of the new wave of hot technology attracting lots of eager investment, make the big announcement, reassure all the hiring managers it’s an easy interface, and then what? Just see what happens when real people use it? Hmmm.

I’m thrilled that HR technology is rising to the fore, with innovative companies like Workable, recently infused to the tune of $34 million. But it is important that you understand how to connect that technology with the people with whom it will interface.

What Workable aims to do is give smaller firms the same bells and whistles, big-as-the-Cloud-allows hiring software that the big ones have. It’s a way to even the playing field in terms of the hiring process, and with customization make sure that it’s not that dreaded LCD, one-size-fits-all tech none of us want.

We may still be at the stage where we know more about what we don’t want than what we do.

I’ll give you a leg up with that one: we do want software that can run on mobile platforms and understands how to work with social media. Apropos of that, Workable’s mobile-friendly and social literate. There’s also the reality of the cost factor: hiring is expensive; technology is expensive; the global workplace makes managing talent expensive. If we could save a bit of cash, that’d be great. (And we will further discuss hiring needs, costs and processes in next week’s live podcast and #TChat with Nikos Moraitakis, CEO of Workable.)

But — and you know there’s a but or there would not be a column — for all the efficiency that technology creates, it can’t replace a real human handshake. It can’t replace that human element. And part of the mythology surrounding mega talents like Steve Jobs or Danielle Fong (the co-founder of energy storage innovator LightSail) are the many people involved in those particular, individual career paths. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure an HR search application would be able to locate Steve Jobs now, though it would certainly locate the networking maven Fong.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hiring isn’t an algorithm. It’s still about people and talent and culture fit. Nor is it a grab for the file in the middle of the stack. So the ideal hiring manager needs to be able to straddle both sides of the equation. The hiring managers need to be facile at the new technology — which is designed specifically to reduce the amount of time doing all that busywork, from search and recruiting and on through the hiring funnel. But they also need to be able to do the face to face. This is a two-handed drive: you’ve got to speak both languages in order to keep up.

But there’s another reason to make sure human stays in HRand you are really good at the software. Given that your hiring team is the first face of your employer brand, you’ll want them to be fluent with your selected HR technology, whatever it is. If they’re not, it will have an enormously negative impact on your employer brand. Nothing is a more damaging sign to a company, particularly a small business, than a clumsy and inept hiring and onboarding process. It says: This is a company chasing numbers, not talent. So much for transparency: you’re just transmitting that your apparent transparency is actually see-through.

Inefficient as a mindset

Sure, Las Vegas was muy tasty: so much HR technology, so many new rollouts, that there’s bound to be pleas for caution after we’ve finally emerged from the buffet. As a field, however, we’ve seemed wedded to a kind of balky inefficiency.

There are the “approval up the channels” steps and pauses, and the “can’t find the references” glitches, and countless ghosts in the machine. Then there are the machines. We are haunted by the very process we’re trying to leave behind. Why? There’s still an interface with seams that need erasing. Now it’s from the amazing HR technology to the human hiring teams. Let’s make sure those key dots are connected. Go for it and please keep me posted.

A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 10/23/15

Community Paradigm: It's All About YOU!

The Fact of the Matter

Every community develops their own definition of what matters. For some communities,  it’s motivated by a shared interest or a commitment to a specific change. For others, it’s professional best practices that can create a unified purpose. Some communities are even defined solely by the outcome of their environment stemming from completely circumstantial situations such as geography or an unforeseen event.

When it comes to TalentCulture, relevance is not merely the static entity of a group of people who associate themselves with the World of Work.  TalentCulture is a space to recognize and redesign; an evolving space that is given shape by the very people who fill it with their experiences, knowledge and stories. It’s the tale of two cultures – individual and organization, coming together to form one powerful voice. What matters to TalentCulture, is the community itself – what matters is YOU.

The 3 C’s of Comm“you”nity

  1. Connection – When Steve Jobs joined Pixar, he actually joined Pixar by bringing all functions of staff together into the same physical space. This decision empowered people to connect with themselves to cultivate the confidence to do something differently as well as each other to spark remarkable success. The redefinition of the workplace resulted in removing the “bull” and leaving the pen so people could draw better conclusions, literally.
  2. Creation – The Olympics are coming in July and with it the anticipation of the opening ceremonies. The world is waiting to catch a glimpse of the spectacle that has dazzled for literally hundreds of years. It’s a remarkable example of how the collective creates something more innovative and influential than the individual and how we love it.
  3. Crowdsourcing – The new paradigm in community engagement is what I call “The YOU Paradigm”; where the crowd initiates and generates meaningful consensus through an organization sanctioned play-for-performance model. In this model, thought leadership emerges as collective and open source intelligence ignited by four simple words – What Do YOU Think?

Every week we put YOU front and center. The community, quite simply, is what moves TalentCulture front and center. It’s what keeps people coming back every Wednesday and has vendors using the #TChat hashtag on twitter to get YOUR attention. So tell us: What do YOU think?