Skip to Content

Want to make change stick? The secret is knowing the ‘why’. (Part 1)

Want to make change stick? The secret is knowing the ‘why’. (Part 1)

How can we act with an impact mindset, pivoting when needed and ensuring that our people have the grit to embrace and stick with change?

You’ve heard it a million times. The only constant in our world is change. Yet we too often find it difficult to shift gears and make it stick. Being comfortable with change – or more accurately, welcoming it – is crucial when we work in a lightening-paced, global tech ecosystem, where rapid transformation is part of our daily bread and butter. So how can we act with an impact mindset, pivoting when needed and ensuring that our people have the grit to embrace and stick with change?

The storytelling framework

My own experiences have taught me that driving positive change starts with the ‘why’. If you’re clear about the purpose of doing something and communicate it effectively, you’ll bring people along with you on the journey. In other words, everything rests on great storytelling. People are far more likely to engage and connect with the direction you’re moving in if they engage and connect with why you’re going that way.

This is a lesson I learned when I landed at Cambridge University many years ago to start an engineering degree. A lecturer said, ‘So you’ve been told everything in physics is an absolute. But now you’re going to start the real learning. It’s time to question things like, was Newton actually right about gravity, and what does it mean?’

That invitation to employ critical thinking crystallised my own personal ‘why’. I’d been to primary school in Kenya, and seen the inequality of education in that environment. I then moved on to Cambridge and from there, into the Royal Navy, where I learnt a lot about leadership and teamwork. Now I lead Trailhead across EMEA, something I consider to be the job of a lifetime, not least as it offers the promise of accessible career opportunities to others, no matter your background. As an intrapreneur, as a Trailblazer and as a leader at Salesforce, I believe education and learning are at the core of making a difference. Why? Because imagine what we could achieve if we could activate the potential of everyone!

It’s people who build movements

While finding ways to activate people’s potential is how I set my compass and go some way to explain why I’m extremely passionate about change and making it stick, I’m also clear that sustainable change in organisations doesn’t happen overnight or by accident. It has to be by design.

In business, employee buy-in is central to this design. After all, it’s people who build movements. As Steve Jobs said, ‘The only way to do great work is to love what we do’. And it’s much more likely people will love what they do if they understand the ‘why’ of doing it.

There are countless statistics showing employees who are engaged deliver customer excellence. For example, around 89% of revenue growth leaders say an improved employee experience leads directly to improved customer experience. We also know there’s currently a huge recruitment transition going on, with people prepared to walk away from jobs and organisations that they’re not truly passionate about.

On the other hand, when everyone at a company feels a shared sense of ownership, and an appreciation of the ‘why’, the ship turns much faster.

So it follows that if we engage employees in the use of the products and services that they’re helping to build, maintain, and deliver to our customers, we get much more than the bare minimum in return. At Salesforce, we want to inspire a generation of technology builders who truly think about the human impact of what we’re doing. And part of driving for change that sticks is the feeling that we’re building something that is genuinely benefiting humanity.

It’s something I think we do well at Salesforce and it’s where much of our employee passion comes from. As Tiffani Bova, Chief Growth Evangelist at Salesforce puts it, ‘The fastest way to get customers to love your brand is to get employees to love their jobs.’

Customers bring the platform to life

But when we’re working with customers to implement transformation, it isn’t just Salesforce employees that need to be engaged. We might be the visionary technologists delivering the platform, but it’s our customers who bring it all to life.

It’s the inspiring leaders who see the way forward and adopt change, the committed implementers, the analysts, the architects, the coders, the developers, the engineers, the designers, and the project managers. It’s about the user base, yes, but it’s also about the people who sit behind the scenes, being the awesome administrators who lead incremental change followed by a constant set of improvements as the business evolves. In this way, every single person has an impact on getting change to stick.

Implementing change can be a rollercoaster ride. At the beginning of any new programme, we’re all learning and experiencing and if we believe in the ‘why’, there’s a surge of enthusiasm and motivation. Once reality sets in, this can take a bit of a dip until, perhaps, we see the potential, and are re-energised by it. A sense of ownership is important in aligning teams and pulling them all together, helping foster the grit and resilience to keep going. What’s more, the most successful projects always keep evolving, developing and iteratively delivering. Measuring this, through tools like stakeholder analysis and reviews, is absolutely critical.

So, if you want to be ready for change and make it stick, you have to be deliberate about it. To build a movement, you have to be clear on your ‘why’ and know how to communicate it persuasively to others. Intentionally, my own personal way of activating the potential of everyone tallies well with our vision for the future at Trailhead – one in which everyone is empowered to change the world. We know we’ll get there if we continue to think differently and keep aligning purpose across different teams, departments and organisations. After all, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you seek to go far, go together.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss change management, being value-driven and how outcome-led work powers the most effective collaborations.

Stuart Mills

Stuart is a VP at Salesforce and an Intrapreneur focused on developing talent for the Salesforce Economy.  Stuart has over 15 years leading digital innovation and transformation initiatives for key customers. He works in partnership to build momentum, center on customer centred design, drive innovation and experimentation, look for agility, manage change, and accelerate transformation.  Stuart holds a MA in Aeronautical Engineering from Cambridge University and a MBA from London Business School.  

More by Stuart

Get our bi-weekly newsletter for the latest business insights.