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Thursday, 15 September 2016 00:00

Don't overlook everyday change management

I recently worked with a mid-sized professional services client on a change strategy for the implementation of a new customer relationship management system.  As part of the process, I was given a couple of years' worth of sales figures, which showed a real change in the revenue they were earning from different solutions they offered.

"I'm seeing a big increase in sales of Product X, but a decline in sales of Product Y," I remarked.  "I thought you told me you wanted to increase Product Y sales because it was higher margin and created a more steady revenue stream in the long-term.  What's happening?"

The Director of Sales sighed. "We changed the way we wanted to approach the market with Product Y, and now no one really knows what's going on."

everyday change management

Turned out that the senior leadership team couldn't agree on the revised positioning of Product Y (did they target one or two verticals, or try to go after a larger market segment?), which meant that marketing couldn't create any messaging around it - and that meant that not only were they not doing any external communications, they weren't doing any internal communications, either.  So the sales team, left in limbo but still wanting to make their numbers, were selling as much of Product X as they could while basically ignoring Product Y.

This is what I call 'everyday change': The kind of shifts in day-to-day business that seem like small things - until 6 months pass and you realize that little change, left unaddressed, has actually resulted in some big (and not positive) changes for the business.  No one bothers to create a 'Change Management Strategy' or call in a change management expert for this sort of thing, because it doesn't seem like a big deal.  But it is.

The solution?

As an outside consultant who already had access to the senior leadership and was accepted as a change expert, I was able to help my client:  At the next meeting I added 'product offerings' the agenda and we were able to map out a plan:

  • We set aside time to finally get agreement on the revised positioning for Product Y
  • We agreed on some basic features and benefits messaging
  • Marketing was tasked with creating some internal communications, which were then approved by the leadership team
  • Because leadership was now all on the same page, they could take that back to their teams
  • We arranged training for everyone in the organization - not just the sales team
  • Marketing prepared an external communications plan which was presented to the organization with some fanfare

None of this took very long - it was really just a matter of forcing the organization to make it a priority, and then taking the time to communicate it to the organization.

The result?

Sales of Product Y rebounded almost immediately - the salespeople preferred to sell it anyway, due to the higher margins.

The lesson?

Change management doesn't always mean allocating a huge budget for what is clearly an organizationally-transformative initiative.  Sometimes it just means managing day-to-day changes in business focus as efficiently as possible, to ensure that business goals are being met and everyone in the organization is moving in the same direction.

 

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 00:00

Making change communication compelling

On my more or less constant quest for interesting change management items, I came across this infographic today:

knoll change management infographic

Now, Knoll is a company which specializes in office furniture (or perhaps they'd prefer to call it 'workplace environment design'), so their core competency isn't change management.  However, if you're a supplier involved in a refit of an office of hundreds or thousands of people, you're going to need to know something about change management - because no matter how beautiful your 'office environments' are, getting a whole lot of people packed up, moved and settled, without losing a lot of productivity, requires quite a lot of change to be managed.

This content of this particular infographic isn't particularly earth-shattering - communication, input, messaging, supporting and evaluating are all pretty standard components of any change initiative - but what I liked about it was how aethetically pleasing it is, and how it makes clear that even an office move requires a 12-18 month lead time in terms of communicating the Big Idea to the organization.  In my experience, if organizations did a better job of creating compelling communications, and put them in place earlier in the change process, almost every change initiative would go a heck of a lot more smoothly and with more enthusiastic buy-in throughout the process.  After all, it's hard for people to keep resisting something that looks so appealing, especially if it's been announced months - or years - in advance.

Just something to think about.

 

If you're like me, you probably have a stack of business books somewhere in the corner of your office, just waiting for the mythical day (or month) when you have nothing else to do but read.  Except that when you finally make some time, you discover that most of those books have one or two good points, buried in a whole lot of stuff you already knew or which isn't all that relevant to your day-to-day working life.

That's why, when Bruno Gebarski asked me the other day for my recommendations on great change management books, I didn't have to think too hard about my choices.  There are lots of business change management books out there, but only a handful that I read cover to cover, and refer to and reference often in my work. If you don't have time to read any other change management books this year, these will give you lots to work with.

Aftershock: Helping People Through Corporate Change
by Harry Woodward & Steve Buchholz

change management books beth banks cohn

This is my all-time favorite book about change, and in many ways it's the first book which really addressed the issues around what happens to the people in an organization when they're faced with huge changes.  Even though it was written in 1987, the points the authors make about how to manage people through change are still relevant today, and I find myself referring to Woodward & Buchholz's principles time and again.  If you want to understand - and I mean really understand - the people side of change, this is the book for you.

Leading Change
by John P. Kotter

leading change john kotter beth banks cohn

Of course, you can't talk about change management writers without talking about John Kotter.  He's been one of the leading voices in the field for years now.  I have to admit that I'm not the most passionate devotee of Kotter, but I really like this book because it speaks the language of business.  I can reference it with my clients - some of whom are familiar with Kotter already, from conferences or workshops - and they understand immediately.  I also use his concept of a 'guiding coalition' (making sure you have a team comprised of people with the right amount of power, expertise, credibility and leadership) on all my projects - it's one of those practical tips that make a huge difference no matter what kind of change initiative you're undertaking.

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
by William Bridges

managing transitions william bridges beth banks cohn change management

First published in 1995, this book is now in its 3rd edition, which gives you some idea of just how useful it must be.  It's designed for employees and managers, to help them get through change by understanding, accepting and even embracing the new status quo.  Not every change fits into the 'transition' category, but I find the model particularly useful in cases where the change initiative has potentially negative implications for individuals.  I also use it when I work with my executive coaching clients - we don't go step-by-step through Bridges' model, but I use the principles to help clients who are in that space between 'endings' and 'beginnings'.

ChangeSmart: Implementing Change Without Lowering Your Bottom Line
by Beth Banks Cohn

changesmart by beth banks cohn adra change architects

What would this list be without a shameless plug for one of my own books?  Written for middle- and higher-level managers, this book is all about leveraging the power of your employees to help a change go more smoothly and productively, and with the best possible effect on the bottom line of the organization.  It's got a field-tested framework that can be applied to almost any business project plan, has real-life examples, and, best of all, it can be read in under 2 hours!

What about you?  Which change-related books have been most influential in your day-to-day work?  (Share your recommendations on Twitter @BethBanksCohn.)

 

Ideas are great.  Implementation is better.

Here's an idea:  I'll give you 3 job titles, and you choose the one you'd most like to have.

Change Agent
Innovation Catalyst
Change Management Consultant

You didn't choose Change Management Consultant, did you?

why is change management so boring

Somehow, 'Change Agent' and anything with the word 'innovation' in it sound a lot more exciting than 'Change Management'.  And yet, in many ways, change management is the most important part of the process.

Last week I met a fellow whose business card said he was a 'Change Agent'.  He was everything you'd expect someone with that title to be:  30-something, fashionable clothes, great sunglasses and full of information about the latest hot topics on TechCrunch and Mashable.  

Of course, I'm always interested in anything to do with 'change', so I started asking him what he did on a day-to-day basis.  "Oh, you know," he said.  "I inject ideas into the organizational framework and help us transform the marketplace."  

He did have some interesting ideas - he's definitely thinking about where his industry will be in the next 5-10 years, and how the market will change in that time.  That kind of thinking is important for any organization.

But between Big Ideas and Big Results there is...implementation.  And that's where Change Management comes in.  The problem is that 'management' never seems that exciting - especially compared with 'injecting ideas'.

That's why I like to think in terms of architecture.  Architects take someone else's Big Idea - "I want a beautiful house on this piece of land" - and then figure out how to make the big picture work wtih the small details to get it done.  They show you the model of the building with the graceful facade - and then they show you the detailed construction plans which outline how the thing is going to be built.  And then a good architect oversees the process, from the first groundbreaking to the final landscape design.

There's no question that there's something inherently exciting about coming up with a brand new idea for change - it's like starting a new notebook with nothing but possibilities ahead.  But in the long run there's something much more satisfying about being able to take an idea from conception to fruition to results that being an 'agent' or 'catalyst' just can't touch.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014 00:00

When change falls flat

People view change in different ways, and some are more resistant to change than others. Even if you believe the change you've just announced is positive, beneficial on many levels, and an easy sell, there will be employees who react negatively.

Even employees who are highly resilient may not embrace change if you fail to:

  • prepare them,
  • communicate with them along the way, and proactively
  • manage the change process.

When the change you've announced falls flat and you're met with resistance, it's probably a sign that you've made some missteps in preparing and presenting the initiative upfront. If this is the case, don’t panic. All is not lost.

Here are some general guidelines on how to win over the “resistors”:

Get to the bottom of the negative reaction.

Listen to your employees. Give them a nonthreatening forum in which to express their misgivings, fears, and struggles with the change you are proposing. Make sure you understand the nature of their negative reaction and what might be driving it. For example, they don't understand their new role, don't agree with the timing, or perhaps are just reacting to the "surprise" factor. Engaging in this discovery process with employees helps you and your team develop targeted implementation strategies. Equally important, it lets the resistors know that you're listening.

Communicate what you've learned.

Answer all negative responses in future communications. Address each of the issues they brought up in straightforward, clear language. When appropriate, take responsibility for missteps. For instance, if some employees are reacting negatively because you announced the change without adequate warning, admit your mistake and move on. Get employees involved in the forward momentum of the change process. Instead of dwelling on their resistance, get them focusing on where they can go from here — and how you will do it together.

Emphasize the positive.

Continue to be upbeat, and emphasize the potential good in the change. Winning over resistors involves helping them identify aspects of the change they can feel good about. For example, let them know which aspects of their job are changing and which are remaining stable. Point out how the changes will benefit them. Explain new opportunities and fresh possibilities. Above all, reassure them that they will receive ample resources and support necessary to navigate through turbulent times.

Be realistic about potential negatives.

Doctors have learned that when they inform patients ahead of time what to expect, their patients react better to pain. The same is true for employees. Don't minimize the challenges that are going to be a necessary side effect of the proposed change. Instead, prepare them for various contingencies. When employees know there may be lean times, for example, or a steep learning curve ahead, they will be better prepared. Moreover, "telling it like it is" shows respect on your part.

Engage your middle managers.

Think of middle managers as the eyes and ears of the change process. Ask them to check in with employees early and often during the process to ensure that everyone understands their new role, has a clear sense of organizational objectives, and has the resources to do what's expected of them. Have them regularly report back to you what they've learned. Resistance will continue to pop up along the way, but most negative reactions can be avoided or easily averted through frequent, accurate communication and consistent messaging — much of it by middle managers.

When change falls flat, take heart. You may not be able to undo the initial damage you caused by not preparing your employees well enough, but you will be able to win over resistors and make the change process smoother and more successful from this stage forward.

I do sometimes enjoy a great infographic - it's amazing how a different format can sometimes help you to see information in a whole new way.

Today I noticed an interesting infographic from OneSpring about managing big projects, and thought I'd share it.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter at @BethBanksCohn!

 

When a business needs to change dramatically, in order to stay in business or stay competitive in a changing marketplace, it can wreak havoc on employees.  Even the best top performers can find themselves struggling to keep pace with the change and return to a state of equilibrium.  However, the quicker that employees can return to that equilibrium, the quicker the organization will see the positive results of the change.

Many people think that the best way to encourage employees to return to business as usual is to ignore the 'feelings' around a dramatic change and focus strictly on the tasks at hand.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  Change always raises emotional issues, whether in our professional or personal lives, and companies which acknowledge this will find employees much more receptive to - and better equipped to deal with - even the most dramatic changes.

By injecting change efforts with a little empathy for employees, leaders have an opportunity to positively influence the movement of individuals through the change process.  In their book, Aftershock, Harry Woodward and Steve Buchholz present an effective 3-part model for helping individuals through change:  Clarify; Share; Engage.

Clarify:  The first step toward empthy is to Clarify the issues and concerns an individual may have with the changes taking place.  It starts with listening - both to what's said and what's not said.  At this stage, it's not about refuting concerns, but to clarify that you understand them.  Most people's concerns about change stem from a fear of the unknown, and simply listening and clarifying those concerns by using active listening questions like "What do you fear losing?" and "What would you like to gain?" can help them move past their fears.  This is the beginning of empathy: When you engage in active listening and demonstrate you've heard and understand their concerns, individuals begin to feel they're not alone - which makes it easier for them to move forward into unknown or changing territory.

Share:  In the second stage of this model, you can focus on sharing your understanding of what's happening with the organization.  The key is to relate what you're sharing back to the concerns expressed in the 'Clarify' stage - don't just repeat the company 'party line' about the changes in a generic way, but make it specific and personal.  Even if you can't directly dispel every individual concern (you may not be able to guarantee their job, position or responsibilities), the fact that you're being honest and straightforward will make a big difference.

Engage:  Once you've clarified and shared - and hopefully calmed some of the individual's worst fears by demonstrating empathy for them - you're in a position to gain their commitment to move forward with you (and the organization) through the changes.  Engagement is the root of ownership:  when an individual engages in the process, they can take ownership of their role in the success of the change - and this helps them feel more in control of the process.  Ask them for ideas on how to successfully implement change; create an individual action plan, together; come up with ways to implement their ideas.  The more the individual feels like a valued, crucial part of the change, the more they can focus on what they'll gain rather than what they'll lose.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not suggesting that business change management has to start with weekly therapy sessions for employees in order to be successful.  However, providing a little empathy - especially at the beginning of the change process - can significantly reduce change resistance while encouraging rapid adoption of change.  In fact, in my experience empathy can actually reduce implementation time and cost by as much as 25% over the change cycle.  And that's a 'business result' everyone can appreciate.

 

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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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