It seems cruelly ironic that Instagram, a company that is part of the continuing “disruptive change” movement, should fail so publically in its latest change initiative. In late 2012, Instagram tried to generate revenue by sharing its users' photos. Ostensibly, the catalyst for the now retracted photo sharing policy was the desire to generate revenue. It is a challenge shared by many leading edge technology firms, especially those now part of larger firms. Facebook’s (News - Alert) recent acquisition of Instagram only placed more pressure to generate revenue. Unfortunately, Instagram publically demonstrated the results of a poorly planned and poorly communicated change initiative.
Instagram’s public change failure can provide important lessons for anyone or any organization pursuing change, namely the importance of following a critical three-step process: Plan, Communicate and Execute. Like many others, Instagram’s biggest failures came in the first two steps.
Image via instagram.com
Make-or-Break the Change by Planning
While we would like to believe that Instagram planned for potential risk emanating from its new policy, it’s clear that if it did, it didn’t do it very well. Its risk planning failure is especially poignant given recent missteps by Facebook and Netflix. The media and users closely scrutinize any and all policy changes, especially those involving privacy. As users, we have become very educated and involved with changes to the technology platforms we use most. Similar to many technology applications, Instagram struggles with revenue generation. The attempted policy change was undoubtedly, an attempt to generate revenue. Somehow it didn’t plan for any backlash and its immediate retraction only served as direct proof of this lack of risk planning. All changes must plan for probable risks and have ancillary planning for other risks. Ignoring this rule, will most likely lead to change failure with its resulting costs.
Change Requires Honest, Relevant and Timely Communication
Unfortunately for Instagram, the only communication was in full damage control mode. While appropriate, the communication was much too late to save the change and did little to mollify many users who subsequently defected. The time for communication is prior to, during and after the change has been implemented. This communication must be honest as to intentions and goals. It must be relevant to the specific change initiative being forwarded and it must be timely to the current stage of the initiative.
These lessons are easily translatable to both personal and organizational changes. For organizational changes, risk management is a serious endeavor and must be handled appropriately. While it is impossible to identify every possible risk, it is possible to identify risk categories. By this identification, response plans are put in place to immediately address a risk pending its categorization. The key to successful identification is communication.
Communication must be honest, constant and consistent between the project sponsor, team leader, team members and those affected by the change. In the planning stage, a wide array of resources must be utilized to establish categories and then identify probable and potential risk. Honest communication allows for robust dialogue between team members and subject matter experts and the formation of a realistic risk plan. Once the change initiative is started, communication becomes especially critical. Lack of relevant and timely communication will lead to confusion, fear, resentment and even pushback to the otherwise appropriate change initiative. All of these negative results will severely and potentially fatally impact the likelihood of success. Thus, there is no such thing as over-communication, but lack of communication is real and must be combated.
Answering these questions requires honest introspection or communication with self. This is the time to be brutally honest and realistic with not only goals, but risks as well. We have a tendency to take on goals and internal change projects that are overly ambitious. Once the initiative is started and the going gets tough, we start compromising with ourselves and questioning the likelihood of success. Honest communication, internally and with our support team, allows for greater probability of realistic goal-setting and realistic achievement.
Execute According to Plan
Unfortunately, Instagram’s failure in the first two steps, created a Garbage In, Garbage Out result. If the planning is not comprehensive and if the communication is selective and haphazard, the execution of the plan will go awry. Even worse, once the execution becomes unsustainable, the correction will create additional negative pressure on both the change initiative and the organization itself. While the impact on Instagram is debatable post-failure, there is no doubt that it suffered a public black eye.
If Instagram’s goal was to generate revenue, its change initiative should have planned for a potential backlash and it should have been communicated in a manner that incorporated the risk strategy and allowed for meaningful dialogue during all stages of the change initiative. By learning from Instagram, we can effectuate successful and enduring change within our own organizations.
Moe Glenner is the founder and president of PURELogistics, a leading consulting firm that specializes in organizational change. He earned his MBA at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management and a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Certification from Villanova University. Glenner's new book, Selfish Altruism: Managing & Executing Successful Change Initiatives ($13.95 | Amazon), explores best practices in organizational change. For more information, visit www.moeglenner.com.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman