Change management for content strategists

Implementing a content strategy means organizational change. Although it’s often an overseen “side effect”, content strategists should actually embrace the change and actively manage any change processes that come with the implementation of a content strategy. During one of our last courses at the Content Strategy Master programme of FH Joanneum Graz we have worked on developing a change management process including a communication concept as well as a change story.

One model that seems to be particularly helpful for content strategists is Lewin’s Change Management Model, introduced to us by Ursula Kronenberger in our course on Editorial Processes and Project Management. The model could be helpful for content strategists working in organizations of any size or industry. It’s like a blueprint to survive change in social systems. Let’s take a look at it in detail.

A model from the 1940s

Kurt Lewin has developed his Change Management Model back in the 1940s. Even nowadays it is considered as one of the cornerstone frameworks for understanding organizational change. The three-stage process describes change using the analogy of ice. It’s about unfreezing, changing and refreezing: In order to change an ice cube, you have to melt it before refreezing the new shape.

However, before you start melting the ice you need to know the “Why” of the change – something we’ve discussed during our change project in class. Or as Kur Lewin put it,

“Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.”

Change Management Model
Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model (© Dominik Berger)

Phase 1: Unfreeze

During the first phase, you have to prepare the organization to accept that change is necessary. It includes analysing the current status and developing a sound message so everyone in the organization understands the need for change. It involves a lot of empathy (a key skill or trait of content strategists, to my mind) and intuition.

Unfreezing an organization might be the most stressful part. It will involve uncomfortable discussions and quite some frustration. As my colleague Marina wrote on her blog, every person lives in his/her own reality and acts accordingly. That’s why communication – tailored to the specific needs of the involved individuals – is so important.

If you are a content strategist joining an organization with a low maturity, this will be a huge challenge (i.e. when introducing a governance model at scale which includes a lot of change).

As content strategists you can and probably should use data (i.e. from content audits or any other analysis) to emphasize the need for change. Decreasing NPSs, sales figures or conversions could be a good reason for change.

However, it’s important to remember that this is still a controlled change. It’s not an unplanned crisis. You can prepare for it and have your tactics and “battle plan” ready.

Phase 2: Change

Now it’s about changing the shape of the melted ice cube. It’s literally time for people to change. Step by step, people will believe and gain trust in your change process. You’ll get more and more support over time. Remember, acceptance happens gradually and not overnight. So don’t expect (especially large) organizations to immediately change.

It’s important that every individual understands how they benefit from this particular change. Therefore, it’s important for content strategists to communicate clearly and regularly (like already mentioned in phase 1).

Be transparent, open and honest. There will be resistance in some form, but you can actively foresee and manage those by analyzing the stakeholders. Think about their needs and how you can support them.

Phase 3: Refreeze

Eventually, people will embrace the change. The new shape gets frozen again. It’s the tipping point where the organization becomes a better version of itself. You will have a stable and better (whatever better means in your terms) organization again. People will feel confident and comfortable again. And maybe this is already your call for the next change project.

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