Achieving a fundamental change in organisational writing style is, undeniably, a challenge. It’s normal for people to resist a major change from old ways of doing things.
If you want the project to succeed, everyone needs to accept that the change will be permanent. They need to understand that ‘this is who we are now’ and ‘this is how we write at our place’.
Creating a business-as-usual expectation
Responding to two wake-up calls, New Zealand’s Commerce Commission launched a full-scale plain language culture change. The Commission’s Chief Executive, Brent Alderton, was fully supportive of the change from the beginning, but to really make it work he had to remind staff that the change was permanent.
Resistance to the project presented itself in different ways. Some staff members disagreed with the new writing standard that sat at the heart of the writing culture change. Others questioned whether the Commission really needed to change. But by ‘going gangbusters’ from the start and making the change a business-as-usual expectation, Brent and the Commission’s former Communications Manager, Allanah Kalafatelis, soon achieved the critical mass they needed to make the project work.
‘Once word of mouth spread … momentum built rapidly,’ Allanah said. ‘We started to have a buzz in the organisation, and people didn’t want to be left out. It was exciting when we realised what was happening!’
Proudly announcing a plain English culture change
When we work on culture change projects with organisations, we strongly encourage those managing the change to proudly announce that they stand behind it. That immediately gives a sense of commitment and permanence. If an organisation is too shy to announce their change plans, or if they want to be ‘perfect’ before they say anything, they miss out on a great opportunity to rally their people and create stakeholder goodwill for the project.
If a desired change is important enough, it should become a fundamental ‘here to stay’ expectation that’s woven into all aspects of an organisation’s work practices and processes.