Change management: the bastard child of leadership

August 24, 2017
Beth Crivello-Wagner Vice President, Brand Services

As leaders, we don’t talk about change management nearly enough. We talk gobs about inspiring change, leading change, visioning change and searching for change, but managing through change seems to get about the same level of attention as Princess Eugenie gets from the press when covering the Royals. If change management were a person, it would be Jan Brady.

But why is this the case? Because, my friends, implementing change is hard. It’s not sparkly and pretty like its big sister, “vision.” It has pimples. It’s awkward. It’s unsure. It’s chubby and nothing seems to fit well. But change is not only necessary; it’s constant and deserves our attention and nurturing. Managing people, processes and product evolutions through change requires every tool in your leadership toolbox – soft skills, hard skills and everything in between. Over my (ahem) 20+ years in the biz, I have had the privilege (and nightmare) of managing our business and counseling other organizations through countless rounds of change. Sometimes I’ve been successful. Sometimes, not so much. But with each turn, I learned something important:

  1. Know WHY you are changing: Change can happen to you, or you can proactively set a course for change. Regardless of the reason, make damn sure you know why this change is occurring. Are you reacting to external forces? Are patients leaving you because your services are eroding? Is your business changing because of new technologies? Are you changing because you want to sharpen the organizational pencil or want to add new products or services to your portfolio? Whatever the reason, diagnose WHY before you act or react. It will provide you with focus and allow you to build a deliberate plan as a result. Oh, and when you’re lying awake at night asking yourself, “why in the hot hell are we doing this?” it’s pretty helpful to have an answer.
  2. Understand WHAT are you trying to achieve. Do you have an end game or purpose with some measures against which you can determine success or failure? Know what you are getting your organization and yourself into. Be deliberate and informed. Have an answer for your stakeholders. Heck, have an answer your Mom can understand.
  3. Figure out WHERE you’re choosing to go. Destination anyone? Set a vision for where you want your organization to end up. This may be a series of destinations over time. Or it might be a long-term gulp goal. Either way, it’s impossible to chart a course without some idea as to where you’re headed.
  4. Know WHEN you can realistically arrive. I’ve italicized the “realistically” word for a reason. This is a major area where vision-driven leaders lose their shorts. They believe that hard-driving change trumps realistic timeframes. “We need a new website for a health system in two weeks!” Not happening. “Everyone will understand their roles within a month!” Um. No. “Product development shouldn’t take more than a quarter.” Entire organization quits. Think about the time it will take to not only reach the goal, but every step necessary to make the end-goal possible. Rome wasn’t built in a day. And losing twenty-pounds is a lot less “diet” than it is “amputation.” You can decide the pain you’re inflicting.
  5. Truly, honestly know WHO will be impacted by this change: This has layers. First, identify who is going to play a role in making this change happen. Next, deep dive into who will be impacted by the change. And please, for the love of Pete, don’t just think about your immediate leadership or management team. Get in the weeds. Think about every role in your organization – from maintenance to customer support. Look at this change through his or her lens and determine how their role will need to change or evolve as a result.  And LOOK OUT! By this I mean, look outside of your organization. Think patients, customers, partners and vendors. Be informed as to their reactions and prepare for next steps.
  6. Know HOW you intend to make change happen. Proper planning prevents poor performance. Have a plan in place as to how you intend to roll out change. Have a communication plan set and documented. Have a CRISIS communication plan in your hip pocket in case change goes south. Leave no stone unturned in your plan, recognizing how change is going to impact the following:

Processes: The steps for getting work done are critically important. It impacts efficiency, customer experience and employee engagement. Don’t just assume your processes will flex.

People: Do my people get it? Do the people who manage other people get it? Can they help me communicate it? How are we keeping them informed? How are we going to communicate their role changes? Will they care? Will they freak? Will they leave? Have a plan for communicating, transitioning, training and even replacing, if necessary.

Product: How drastically will your product need to change? How is this going to be consumed? Can we make it even better as a result?

Performance: Is going through change going to impact the performance of your organization? As with any organization, you’ll want transitions to be seamless.

And here is the greatest piece of advice I can offer. “Fake it ‘til you make it,” is not a thing. It’s not. False foundations, uninformed plans and thinly veiled answers will hurt you in the long run. Employees will see through it. Customers will too. If you don’t know something, admit it. If you need help from others, ask for it. Work WITH people to find answers, but don’t pretend. Make believe is adorable when you’re four, not 40.

And finally, communicate. Over communicate. Uber-communicate. Be open, flexible and empathetic. Be transparent and human, but driving and decisive. Recognize that there are very specific milestones to overcome within stages of change – and no one reaches them at the same time. Change is good – but only if you make it so.

Beth Crivello-Wagner is the Vice President of Brand Services at Core Creative.


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