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The situation:

A large pharmaceutical organization needed to implement a new selling model across a sales force of approximately 2000 people - without negatively impacting sales volume, even in the short term.

Several disparate sales teams representing different geographical regions were being combined to form one unified sales force.  Because individual sales force identity was very strong - sometimes even stronger than company brand identity - in the field, and the management structure was going to change significantly, this represented a major shift in the way the company handled its sales.

merging teams change management


The sales force was selling a commodity product in a highly competitive industry, which meant that even small changes to territories, processes or structure had historically led to significant drops in sales volume.  Additionally, because the sales force was large and spread across the country, changes could mean months of administrative disarray - which also led to steep declines in revenue.

Since this new selling model would include both territory and field structure changes, the risks were particularly high for this change initiative.


We recommended a 3-part approach:

  • A change communication plan focused on the role of senior management and senior field management
  • A change and transition plan including an indentity merger component, including a contest to come up with a name for the new, unified team
  • A management training plan focused on how field managers could handle the change effectively


  1. The change communication plan employed several different types of feedback loops, which encouraged all team members to participate effectively - which in turn created a positive business climate for the changes, in which junior sales force team members were set good examples by senior leadership
  2. The contest to choose a new name for the unified team drove healthy competition across regions, which fostered maintenance of sales volumes while emphasizing the 'one team' message
  3. The management training plan gave managers the tools to identify and understand where employees were in the change cycle and how to move employees through the process without negatively impacting sales volume

In the end, the majority of the sales force - from senior management to junior salespeople - thought the change was 'no big deal'.  In fact, even though the change represented quite a shift in the way the business managed sales, it was executed in a way that allowed people to move into the new selling environment without missing a beat.

Sales remained constant throughout the realignments, and even increased in some areas.  Sales management reported improved communication and increased morale across the entire sales force.  Sales in the first year following the change remained constant with no decline, and increased by 15% in the following year - which exceeded pre-change expectations.


Published in News

In Part I of our series on the Employee Perspective on change, we talked about what to do when you find the company's values no longer align with yours as an individual employee.  In Part II, we discuss what happens when you're hired to 'transform' or 'change' an organization - but then discover that no one actually wants those transformations or changes.

Q:  I've been offered what looks like a terrific opportunity to make a real difference:  I'll be heading up a new department and spearheading some major changes.  But I haven't met with the executive team yet and I'm concerned that the company isn't quite as committed to these changes as they say they are.  How can I ensure I don't end up 'spearheading' a spectacular failure?


Ah, the age-old question.  You've just been offered your dream job:  You were recruited from your previous position with promises of a promotion, a great title, and the opportunity to make some exciting changes.  The people with whom you interviewed have told you that the organization is 'desperate for action' and you'll be given 'a free hand' to 'transform' the company.  It sounds fantastic.

But so far, you've only interviewed with the HR department and a handful of senior leaders, and the word on the street is that the executive team has been talking about making changes for years but have never managed to take decisive action.

Here's how to determine whether the position on offer is all it's cracked up to be - and whether you'll actually be in a position to successfully spearhead the changes they've told you they need:

  1. Listen for 'red flag' statements:  When you hear terms like 'newly-created role' and 'catalyst for change' during the recruiting and interviewing process, you can be fairly certain you're about to dive into uncharted territory.  This could be a great opportunity - or it could mean that not everyone in the organization is supportive of (or even knows about) this new role and its stated mandate.  It's a cue to probe deeper to find out if there's been a stated corporate mandate for specific change, whether it's been clearly articulated as part of a recent organization-wide business initiative, and who's been involved in creating this new role.
  2. Look for gaps between the job description and the organizational culture:  For example, if you're being hired as the Head of Digital Transformation with a mandate to help the company become 'more visionary', but the corporate website spends a lot of time talking about 'old-fashioned values' and the people you meet during the interview process crack jokes about how your fancy iPhone means you must be a hipster, you may be in for trouble.

    Again, these are cues to probe for more information.  Don't be afraid to ask, for example, how this 'Digital Transformation' role will align with the values stated on the website.  The response you get will tell you a lot about how the organization really sees this new role they've created and how committed they are to change.

    (I was once hired by a pharmaceutical company with a mandate to create 'new and innovative' approaches which could 'really drive change' in a computer training program.  When the first person I spoke to on my first day of work said, "We shouldn't waste our time on PCs - they're just a fad...", I knew I was in for a rough ride.)
  3. Ask if they've tried to establish this role before:  Have they tried to hire for this role in the past, but been either unable to do so or unable to keep the person (people?) they've hired?  This could be a good indication that the role isn't properly defined or isn't well-supported within the organization.
  4. Ask what success looks like - specifically:  If the role doesn't come with clearly defined goals ("Well, we're looking for you to tell us what we should be shooting for here..."), you'll likely find yourself at the mercy of competing priorities - and you'll never be able to get anything done.  What's more, you may have difficulty gaining consensus and support for your changes, because you won't be able to refer back to a central mandate.
  5. Ask about the budget and resourcing assigned to the role or project:  If the person interviewing you says "Oh, we haven't assigned any funding" or "Well, we're waiting for the person we hire to tell us how much money and staff we'll need", it's probably time to run the other way, because no one is taking the role or project seriously.
  6. Ask for examples of previous change initiatives - and their results:  If the organization can point to a recent 'transformation' in another area that went well, it's a good indication that the company copes well with change.  If all you hear are stories about how previous change initiatives haven't gone over well ("But I'm sure with you in this new role it'll all be different!"), you may want to rethink whether you're going to be set up for success.
  7. Go with your gut:  If you've been in the working world for a few years, and something about the opportunity just doesn't seem right to you, it may be that your subconscious is picking up on clues your conscious brain is missing.  

    In business, we're often told to ignore our 'feelings' and stick to the facts, but our gut reactions are our life experience talking - and that's worth something.  

    So step back, take some time to reflect on what you've been told about the role, and then see how you feel.

Don't get me wrong - sometimes you have to take big risks in order to achieve big things, and jumping into a whole new role with a big mandate could be a fantastic opportunity for you to make a big splash and take a big leap forward in your career.  I'm simply suggesting you take a calculated risk rather than a reckless one.



Published in News

Most of the time on this blog, we talk about change management from the perspective of the organization:  How to more effectively manage the various moving parts of change so that the organization sees the maximum return on their change efforts.

However, I was recently asked for my advice on change management from the perspective of an individual employee.  Whether they are in the midst of an official 'change initiative' or not, organizations are never static; they're always evolving and adapting to changing market conditions, competitive environments, or economic factors.  So in many ways, change is a constant from an employee perspective.

In Part I of our Employee Perspective on change, we discuss what happens when an employee finds the core values of an organization have changed.

Q:  When I joined the company, I found their core values aligned with my own.  However, lately I've noticed that just isn't true for me any longer.  I'm reluctant to make a big move at the moment, given the economy.  Is there a way I can stay with the company, or should I resign myself to finding a new job?


  1. First, look at the specifics of your situation.  Is it really true to say that your values and those of the organization don't align any more, or are there specific issues which are concerning you?

    For example, you may not appreciate that the company's stance on 'lifetime employment for all' has changed in the 15 years since you joined, but that's true for almost all organizations these days.  At the same time, the company's commitment to ethical working conditions and supporting community organizations (two values which are also important to you) are still intact.

    It's worthwhile to take a few minutes to clearly articulate - in writing! - where your values and those of the organization align, and where they diverge.  You may discover you're actually more aligned than you think.
  2. Do a level check with like-minded employees.  For example, if 'quality' was a highly-prized value when you first joined the company, but now seems to have gone by the wayside in pursuit of shareholder value, find out how other employees at your level are coping with the apparent disconnect.  

    You may find that some of your co-workers are continuing to work as though quality is still a highly important value, and that may give you the confidence to do the same.  On the other hand, you may find that they aren't experiencing pressure to forego quality, and that the difficulty is actually more to do with a specific manager in your department, not the whole organization.

    Remember, it's not unusual for a company to temporarily lose its way during a difficult time, but if enough employees continue to operate to high standards, the organization as a whole may find its way back over time.  Even individual employees have the power to make the difference in the organizational culture.
  3. Create an exit strategy.  You may find that, as you look at specifics and examine the company as a whole, there are some values on which you simply can't compromise, such as ethical business practices.  If you find those values have changed, you may still need to consider leaving.  But don't resign in a huff, or spend a lot of time griping to co-workers about 'the good old days'.  Make a plan, and give yourself the time and space you need to find the right kind of work in a company that aligns with your values.

    You'll feel better knowing you have a plan and that your employment will have an end date - even if it is 6-12 months in the future.


NEXT:  The Employee Perspective, Part II:  This isn't the job I was hired for

Published in News
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 07:12

Change Leadership: A tale of two departments

A few years ago I was working with a mid-sized packaged goods company which had two large operations in different parts of the country.  Each operation focused on a particular product line, for which it had separate sales departments, and the change initiative was to unite the technology systems for both to allow for better cross-selling and customer service.

Six months into the project I was perplexed:  While one operation was proceeding effectively with the changes, and was already showing positive results (increased sales and better customer feedback, etc.), the other facility had stalled, and we were starting to meet active resistance.

At first, the reasons were unclear:  Though the organizational goals were aligned across both operations, we'd prepared customized change strategies for each location based on their people, process and technology.  How had we gotten one change plan so right and the other so - apparently - wrong?

As I've mentioned before, good communication is the foundation of any successful change management strategy and implementation.  I decided to spend some time at the underperforming facility, talking not just to project team members but to various other staffers as well, to see what I could find out.

Spending a few days on-site at the underperforming facility and talking to employees quickly revealed the problem:  The VP Sales of that operation had missed several key planning meetings at the beginning of the change process due to work-related travel commitments.  Though he'd been provided with documentation - and had participated in subsequent meetings - he'd been left feeling under-consulted and left out of the process.  In addition, there were long-standing rivalries between the two operations which hadn't been adequately articulated in these key early planning meetings - so the VP Sales was feeling threatened by the changes.

The result was that while the VP Sales of the high-performing operations was actively engaged in the change and was doing a great job of enthusiastically leading his people forward, the VP Sales of the underperforming operation was not only demonstrating lacklustre leadership for the change, but was actively undermining it by telling his managers that change-related tasks were a 'low priority' and could safely be sidelined in favor of 'business as usual'.

The solution

As it turned out, the solution to our problem was relatively straightforward:  We (the CEO, the VP Operations, and I) spent an afternoon with the VP Sales of the underperforming operation to review the change strategy, with particular emphasis on the decision-making rationale that he had missed earlier in the process.  We actively solicited his insight and input and made a couple of revisions based on that input.  He became a much more enthusiastic supporter of the change initiative, and went back to his people with a more positive leadership approach.

The lessons

  1. Don't underestimate the value of single individuals in the success or failure of a change initiative.  A single unengaged VP can derail an entire change initiative.
  2. Don't assume enthusiasm and engagement.  Even though the underperforming VP Sales hadn't been at some of the early planning meetings, we'd simply assumed that - since he hadn't expressed concern or issues at subsequent meetings - he was on board and as enthusiastic as everyone else.
  3. A little bit of TLC can go a long way.  Once we determined the problem, we didn't 'bully' the unengaged VP Sales into compliance or 'shame' him by comparing him to the high-performing VP Sales.  Instead, we took the time to review the change strategy with him, ask for his insight, and implemented revisions which addressed his concerns.  It's amazing how demonstrating respect and consideration can transform a non-engaged leader into a fully-engaged one.

BONUS LESSON:  If key members of the change strategy team can't participate in early meetings, ensure they are provided with one-on-one follow up.  Making the time to keep everyone on the same page right from the beginning will save a lot of time and frustration later on.


Published in News


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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