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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.

 

Published in News
Friday, 11 October 2013 00:00

The Devil is in the Details

 

Change management can get derailed by the weirdest things

A few years ago I was working on a change management initiative:  Implementing a new CRM (Customer Relationship Management) process within a mid-sized organization.  The project mostly involved changes to the way customer inquiries and issues were managed and monitored, but the software was staying the same.

I thought the project was going quite well, until one Monday morning I checked my email to find 4 messages from the manager of the sales team.

"I can't stand this new system!" the messages said.  "You never told me you were going to change the whole computer system!  I thought were were using the same software as before!  I can't find anything!"  There were a lot of exclamation points, and the messages got progressively more strident.

change management frustration

I was confused, because I knew we hadn't changed the software.  The project was really about providing a better customer experience and ensuring that we had a more consistent message across all touchpoints.

Luckily I happened to be on-site with the client that day, so I stopped by the sales manager's desk to ask for more information.  I was glad I did.

It turned out that over the weekend (typically a slow time), the IT team had made some changes to the look and feel of the back-end of the CRM system, to make it more consistent with the front end of the website:  They'd added the company logo, changed some fonts and colors, and added a background image to the login page.  Nothing about the functionality had changed:  Users still logged  in the same way, entered the same information, and navigated through the same screens.

The problem?  The IT team hadn't told anyone that they were making the changes over the weekend, so when the sales manager called up the CRM system on that Monday morning and saw an unfamiliar background image, and was then faced with a system that looked different, she panicked.

The lesson?  When people are in the midst of a change initiative, they can feel more insecure and uncertain than usual, because they know they're going to have to learn to work - and be successful - in different ways.  That kind of stress can lead them to misread information (mistaking new colors and fonts for a whole new system) and then over-react (sending 4 panicked emails).  This is why it's crucial to communicate - and keep communicating - even the smallest details, throughout the process.  If the IT team had simply sent out an email on Friday saying they'd be making some cosmetic changes to the CRM system, the sales manager would have been prepared for what she saw on Monday.

BONUS LESSON:  Your sales team can be your most effective allies in a change management initiative - but they tend to be emotional engaged, so it's extra-important to manage their experience throughout the process.

 

Published in News

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!

 

Published in News
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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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