Getting Change Right: How to Transform Your Organization with Gary Grates

In this episode of "Beyond the Shelf," Laura Foti sat down with Gary F. Grates, a titan in the field of strategic communications and change management, to discuss the importance of communication and vision when trying to enact change.

Posted on 
March 7, 2024
Laura Foti
CMO, Specright

In this episode of "Beyond the Shelf," Laura Foti had the pleasure of sitting down with Gary F. Grates, a titan in the field of strategic communications and change management. With over 25 years of experience, working with large corporations like General Motors, Volvo, and PepsiCo, Grates brought a depth of knowledge to the conversation. This podcast episode wasn't just another dialogue; it was a masterclass in understanding the nuances of organizational change and the critical role communication plays in facilitating it.

Below are some highlights from our conversation – you can listen to the full audio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Soundcloud. And be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop.

The Essence of Change Management

Gary Grates opened up about the essence of change management, emphasizing that at its core, it's about moving from technical solutions to personal engagement. He pointed out that while many organizations focus on systems and processes when implementing change, they often overlook the human element. According to Grates, understanding human behavior is crucial for any successful transformation. It’s not just about telling people what to do; it’s about engaging them in a manner that aligns with their personal motivations and making them see the value in the change for themselves as well as for the organization.

Lessons from General Motors

Grates shared compelling insights from his tenure at General Motors, a period marked by significant industry shifts including the rise of electric vehicles spearheaded by Tesla. He highlighted how GM's initial reluctance to embrace hybrid technology due to financial models opened up an opportunity for Toyota to introduce the Prius using a marketing model, even though GM had the technological capabilities to rival Toyota. This story served as a powerful lesson on how companies can sometimes be blinded by traditional metrics and miss out on transformative opportunities.

One particularly striking moment came when Grates recounted how he advised GM's board not with a communications strategy but with a bold directive: "Build a hybrid." This move underscored his belief that communication should not just be about messaging but should drive tangible business decisions and actions.

The Role of Communication Teams

A key takeaway from the podcast was Grates' perspective on involving communication teams early in processes like digitizing supply chains or implementing IT changes. He argued that technical transformations alone won't motivate people; individuals need to understand why changes are happening and what benefits they bring on a personal level. People are already checked out, so they need to be engaged. Communications teams play an indispensable role in translating these technical initiatives into narratives that resonate with employees across all levels.

Being A Changemaker

Grates emphasized that communication and a vision for the future are really the most crucial tools when being a changemaker. Towards the end of their conversation, Laura Foti reflected on her own experiences influenced by Grates’ teachings - particularly around being bold enough to make hard decisions even when they're unpopular or risky. She highlighted how lessons learned from leaders like Grates have empowered her to take courageous steps in her career.

Success lies not just in adopting new technologies or methodologies but in genuinely understanding and motivating people toward shared goals—a testament to the power of strategic communication in driving meaningful change.

Listen to the full podcast episode here for more valuable insights, and connect with Gary Grates on LinkedIn here.

To listen to more episodes of Beyond the Shelf, click here.


Laura Foti

Laura leads marketing and investor relations at Specright. Prior to Specright, she led advertising and analytics at GE Digital, GE’s Industrial Internet software business. Before that, she was a consultant at Deloitte Digital working in enterprise digital transformation, where she helped clients design and deploy eCommerce experiences, develop revenue-driving mobile apps, and reimagine their global digital marketing strategy. Laura was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for marketing and advertising and Brand Innovators 40 Under 40 and 100 Women to Watch lists. She graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. She resides in Newport Beach, CA.

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