The last mile of change

Organizations can learn from supermarkets how to create buy-in and retention of people. The last mile is an important topic for FMCG and supermarkets. It should also be an important topic for people dealing with organizational change and user adoption.


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The last mile of change

What organizations can learn from supermarkets.

The last mile is better known as 'the last mile delivery' and is a term mainly used in the logistics world. It refers to the last mile before a product reaches the hands of the customer.

I have a background in the FMCG world, back in the days when e-commerce barely existed, and was always fascinated by the question of how to get a new product into the store and preferably into the kitchen of the customer as quickly as possible. This had to do not only with the pure logistics of stock and transport, but also with marketing and sales. If a new coffee variety was advertised strongly, the chance of a listing at a retailer was already much greater. It also resulted in faster orders and better displays of the new product in the supermarkets. The representatives who visited the supermarkets made sure that the necessary space on the shelves was provided at the right time and that the order codes were readily available. So we had a dozen or so tactics to get the product to the place of truth at the right time to increase the chances that it would be bought and end up in the customer’s kitchen. And, of course, we had a number of other tactics to get people to buy again and become loyal to the new product or brand.

User adoption is the last mile of change

I would now like to draw the parallel with organizational change. A change usually manifests itself in the form of a digital tool, a new system, a new policy or a different approach. Similar to a new pack of coffee at the supermarket. Just like the manufacturer and the supermarket want customers to get to know the new taste of coffee and try it out, and then buy it again, someone who aims for change (this can be a software developer, a director, a team lead, a change manager…) wants the ‘product’ to be known and tried out and then preferably embraced fully. In the IT world this is called user adoption.

User adoption is the last mile of change. And for this, too, it makes sense to have a number of tactics in place to get the new tool or approach to the place of truth at the right time, to ‘sell’ it to employees or other stakeholders and to get them to buy or use it again. To accomplish that, not only does the product or change need to be good (valuable and qualitative), it also ideally needs to be intuitive to use. Just as an iPhone speaks for itself (where’s the long manual?), a change could be designed so that it speaks for itself and people are guided through the change process in a highly intuitive way.

Change management is about removing obstacles

Usually, creating awareness around a new change is done reasonably well. Employees are informed via various communication channels and materials. Through videos and presentations, enthusiasm is created, just as an advertising campaign does for the new coffee capsules. An important basic condition is that, just like in the FMCG world, what is promised is available on time and with the required quality. And then there are the final meters of change. How do you get employees to bite and buy the change, just like customers in the store?

To answer that question I looked for answers in Rick Maurer’s model ‘3 levels of resistence’.
This explains the 3 levels of resistance that occur in organizations when introducing change.

Rick Maurer resistance
Level of cognition: “I don’t understand”
Level of emotion: “I don’t want this”
Level of trust: “I don’t trust it/you.”

I don’t see resistance as something negative, but rather as a signal. Resistance for resistance’s sake does happen sometimes, but most people are constructive and resist because they don’t understand the change, or profoundly don’t want it (e.g. for fear of losing their job or getting other tasks or not having a good work-life integration anymore) or they don’t trust the product, management or the organization. In change processes it is important to assess these different levels and to work with them. Because if you can remove the obstacles, you take away the resistance and make sure that employees adopt the change.

You can do this partly through the design of change actions (certainly where the level of cognition is concerned, following the example of the iPhone), but working on emotions and certainly on trust requires a more personalized approach. Just as the last mile of e-commerce is becoming more and more personalized (customers choose where and when to receive their package), the success of change depends on personalization. And just as in e-commerce, that is currently a people business. You need hands and feet to make it happen and that costs money. In e-commerce you need drivers, in organizational change you need change coaches. The ‘last mile’ in logistics is therefore often about seeking efficiency and looking for innovations that can do this faster and cheaper.

If you don’t deliver, you don’t get paid

Yet there is a big difference between logistics and organizational change. In e-commerce, the need for last mile delivery is not questioned. If you don’t deliver you don’t get paid. In organizational change, this is more vague. A product or change is ‘shipped’ but too little attention is spent on the actual delivery. “Does it arrive decently?” And by decently, I mean that the three levels mentioned earlier have been properly addressed and the obstacles have been removed as much as possible. And the next questions are “Is it being applied properly?” and “Is it helping people move forward?” Those kinds of questions should be more central to organizational change and its design.

In e-commerce, we would find it absurd that packages would be stacked in a pile on a highway parking lot, but in organizational change, many find it normal that doing some communication is enough.

Managing change is usually of a different complexity than managing logistics, so a one-to-one comparison would be unfair, but I find it fascinating to draw parallels and come up with ideas that can help organizational change. If you have examples or ideas of your own, don’t hesitate to share them in the comments!


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