I bought my first screw-top wine in years from RH Phillips, and there was a cork dangling from the neck of the bottle. It got me thinking about change management challenges when the people whose ideas or attitudes you want to change aren't part of your organization.
If ever there was a tangible product with loads of intangibles, it has to be wine. No two batches totally the same, you can't even sniff the product before you buy it, standards of quality are highly subjective, and it has it's own tasting lingo that separates the literati from the rest of us.
I remember a friend saying to me at university, "If it's worth drinking, it's worth corking". (We stopped dating not long after this moment.) So the first distinction you learned in the world-o-wine was this most basic one, cork vs screw-top. But cork is responsible for up to 10% of poor quality wine from "tainted" or "corked" wine, and artificial cork has not proven to be a totally satisfactory replacement. So large parts of the wine industry are moving to screw tops.
Yes, this is a change management story. Because replacing a cork with a screw-top isn't clearly an improvement in the minds of many consumers.
Maia Merrill, a beverage industry commentator sums up the issue nicely:
Realistically ... it doesn't matter how much the wine makers and other industry professionals like the caps. Success has to do with the public's willingness to buy the product. A key issue with regards to the screw caps is convincing those who sell - bar managers, servers and bartenders, and those who buy the wine - of the screw cap's quality and veracity. If the consumer buys a bottle of wine based on the packaging, and many do, the unfortunate reality is that a screw cap is still perceived to be cheap. Additionally, many people buying wine aren't aware of the tainted cork problem, and are quick to dismiss the bottles with caps on them. Consumer reluctance combined with a lack of servers' confidence could pose a threat to the ultimate success of the screw cap. (the site seems to be down right now, but you can try www.beveragebusiness.com).
The ritual of opening a fine bottle of wine at a restaurant is totally missing with the screw-top. Patrons may wonder why they are paying big dollars for screw-top wine. Servers might not recommend screw-top wines to avoid the hassle. Lots of changing going on.
Back to the RH Williams moment in the wine store. As soon as I saw the cork attached to the outside of the bottle, and the screw-cap on it, I got the implicit message -- "this isn't about cost, it's about quality -- see, we've paid for a cork to prove it". The cork itself had a small paper label with the web site www.corkamnesty.com on it, prompting me to peel and read the educational, but also amusing message inside.
There are some good lessons here for change managers:
- engage people in a process of discovery
- use a light touch with your communications, including humor when appropriate
- explain what's going on in clear language anyone can understand
- use symbols to tell the story
- address the cost/profit issues in an honest, straightforward way
- never forget to say What's In It For Me?
If only most organizational changes had this much thought behind them.