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Thursday, 12 September 2013 03:45

Change manager addicted to 'reply all'? Time for a new change manager.

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A few months ago I started working with a new client to develop and implement a change management strategy around their sales processes.  “We really just need you to create the strategy and oversee the implementation,” the senior leadership team told me in our preliminary meetings.  “We have a full-time project manager who’ll be able to handle the day-to-day.”

“Great,” I thought - after all, if you leave all your change up to external consultants, the changes often walk out the front door when the consultants do.  So I was looking forward to working with the project manager.

Our first meeting seemed to go well:  She came prepared, with an organized binder full of reference materials and some good questions about implementation details.  I thought we were off to a good start.

Until the next day, when I sent her a follow-up email - and she replied, CC-ing no fewer than 8 other people.  “Okay,” I thought, “she’s just letting everyone know we’ve gotten started in earnest.”  But no.  Every email response was a ‘reply all’, and if the email had been sent only to her, in her reply she added everyone who’d ever been involved in the conversation - juniors, co-workers, managers, senior leadership, sometimes even suppliers. 

Thanks to the relentless use of ‘reply all’, by the end of the week I had 62 emails about a project that hadn’t even really started yet, and I was exhausted.  When you’re working off-site with a new client, you have to pay close attention to emails.  Spending so much time re-reading ‘reply all’ threads in case they contained important information somewhere in the scrolldown was driving me nuts - especially when it turned out that most of them consisted of really crucial information like “Thanks.  Talk to you on Monday.”

But in some ways I was glad it had happened so early on, because a chronic ‘reply all-er’ can be a real problem for a change initiative.  Here’s why:

  • They aren’t respectful of other people’s time.  I wasn’t the only one who had to sift through 62+ irrelevant emails that week, and I’m quite sure that the other 8 people who’d been CCed on everything had many more productive things to do.  When people see a change initiative as a huge time-suck, they’re more inclined to resist it as the project moves forward.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize information.  When a project manager doesn’t realize that, for example, the CIO doesn’t need to be copied on an email regarding the design of some new materials for the sales team, it’s a good indication that they won’t understand how best to communicate information about the change to the rest of the organization.  And this can be a huge barrier to change management success.
  • They’re too worried about office politics.  People who CC everyone on every email are usually trying to cover their own backside, spread blame, or make it look like they’re busier than they really are.  All of these tendencies can be lethal to a change initiative.

So how do you handle an obsessive CC-er?  Since she was a long-time employee of my client’s organization, and was internally well-liked, I couldn’t have her removed from the project.  And she was quite good with managing timelines.  So I put her in charge of ensuring we were on track with various deadlines, and, using the “We need a single point of contact” approach, I got her to funnel all communications through me for the duration of the initiative.  The change implementation was successful - and we never had a 62-email-week again.

 

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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