How to Make a Case for Change

Who What Why When Where Signpost Showing Confusion BrainstormingHow difficult is it for you to persuade someone to make a big change? Convincing our child that she needs 3 servings of vegetables each day, asking our boss for a raise, coaching an employee to change ingrained habits that are stifling his success and (all too familiar to me) trying to talk my way out of a speeding ticket are examples of situations where the power of persuasion, or making a “case for change”, are paramount.

However, when you need to translate your personal “persuasion” skills and convince a large audience to behave differently or take action, many leaders find that their own personal persuasion skills just can’t scale. Creating the case for change is critically important to explain to stakeholders and audiences what needs to change, why and how it will personally impact them. The key is to focus on simplicity  and follow some easy guidelines to create a powerful message.

  • Get crystal clear and specific on what you are asking your audience to do and why. This is no small feat as it often requires the equally important skill of stakeholder management (i.e., herding cats) to get everyone aligned around that common definition.
  • Write down 5 bullets/sentences outlining the changes. This should outline the “what” – what exactly does this specific audience need to know or do differently?
  • Focus on the “why”. Incorporate a straightforward explanation with no jargon or corporate-speak about the reasons behind the decision and the outcomes you expect. Don’t sugar-coat it; audiences can smell a phony from a mile away. Even if they won’t like hearing it, speak the truth.
  • Define the personal impact or WIIFM (what’s in it for me). Help people understand what will be different for them the day this is implemented. Will it change the organization? Reporting relationships? Jobs and skills needed? Even if you don’t have all the answers, acknowledging the breadth of the change is important to get an audience to pay attention.
  • Evaluate your communication strategy and ensure that your Case for Change:
    • Rolls out early in the project, after your audience is aware that a change is coming.
    • Is tailored to the specific audience group (one size definitely does NOT fit all!).
    • Is delivered by the right leader with the right power and influence to help people listen.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sbPResults.