Over 50 years ago, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross came up with her five stages of grief model which I think has particular resonance today when it comes to accepting that we are now in a predominantly digital world.
This is a perfect metaphor for the way in which too many business leaders and company directors fail to deal with the challenges and pain points posed by technological advances and changes in communications.
First of all there is the Denial stage. We live in a short-term culture where it’s all about quick returns on investment, hitting sales targets and pleasing investors. Why make any changes at all to your business model if you are achieving your short-term goals?
Furthermore, many leaders will turn around and say they understand their customer base and how to communicate with them. This may well be true and there are still millions of people in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have little or nothing to do with digital communications. This includes many in professional services, banking and academia who cannot or will not change the way they engage with those around them.
However, like climate change, you can deny the world is changing all you want but it won’t stop that change happening. It may not impact you in the next 2-5 years, but you know that you can’t stay immune to modern technology for that long.
Next comes the Anger stage. Many older company directors will get particularly hot under the collar around many issues – lack of clear ROI from sales and marketing, perceived underperformance of Millennial staff, profusion of professional digital channels, social media in general, difficulty in attracting and engaging with those under 35. Many will prefer to go back to the ‘good old days’ when networking was done down the pub and sales was done over a telephone.
This is wishful thinking though and wanting an entire generation of people to alter their ways of communicating just for you is fantasy. It is about adapting to the technology and working with younger generations rather than getting angry about what you see as their shortcomings.
Bargaining is the third stage in our grudging acceptance of digital change. Most organisations will have some form of website and social media channels. Some will employ outside agencies to manage these channels. The truth is that this is mere window dressing and the majority of leadership teams within businesses stay wilfully ignorant of modern, inclusive communications strategies preferring to leave it in the hands of their marketing or PR teams. Whilst undoubtedly these people are well placed to handle certain aspects of communications, they don’t manage internal comms, HR, recruitment or investor relations.
Very few major companies will have a proper Head of Communications on the senior management team with responsibility for every aspect of comms both outside and inside the organisation. Brand ambassadorship programmes, internal newsrooms, proactive social media guidelines, enlightened LinkedIn strategies and investing in human capital should all sit within this remit.
Stage four is Depression where many companies say it is too late to do anything or see either their market share disappear or indeed their industry all together. Look at the plight of our town centres as an example. Many retailers will say, with some justification, that the market for shopping has changed and that people no longer want to go into town centres. That said, there are still viable town centres where an enlightened and joined up approach to communications has not only attracted footfall but have made the shops themselves a destination.
Other business owners will claim they don’t have the resources or staff to make the necessary changes. Or they will say that there simply isn’t the will or culture within the organisation to change. As a result, unfortunately many of these companies will go to the wall or get taken over by competitors.
The final stage is Acceptance. Here, a company has an enlightened senior leadership team who recognise that the entire way they communicate needs to change if they are to continue engaging effectively with ALL stakeholder audiences - customers, prospects, staff, prospective staff, suppliers, investors, influencers and the media.
Almost every part of an organisation needs to be geared up for this revolution in communications, from apprentices and graduates right up to the C-suite and even the Board.
In a world of gamification, TikTok, instant video messaging, short attention spans, channel confusion, fake news, algorithms, driverless vehicles and voice activated systems, can you really remain a digital denier?