To thrive in today’s ever-changing business environment, companies need to learn how to remain flexible to meet their customers where they are. Companies that drive through continuous change are already having a competitive advantage. Change management has become a much bigger, more integrated part of every single component of a company. However, The reality is that two out of three initiatives fail. Learning how to remain agile and flexible is not enough anymore, creating a culture that embraces continuous change is where success lies.We had the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm on this topic with an incredible panel of 5 experts with different perspectives to change management:
- Peg Gerdes, Senior Change Leadership Consultant at PG&E
- Luca Rosetti, CEO and Founder of Beaconforce
- Rachel Crocker, Change Management Director at Propeller
- Cindy Peterson, VP of Organizational Effectiveness at Macy’s
- Mark Rout, Director of Change Management at VMware
During the event we discussed the questions: How can we set up a change management initiative for success? Why do most of these initiatives fail? How can learning the skill of storytelling increase adoption and probability of success?
Why change management initiatives fail?
As human beings, we will always be triggered by change. Our natural reaction is to avoid change and protect ourselves from it. Therefore, learning how to support teams and individuals through change is very important but also very hard.
We did a live poll of the audience to see how attendees felt a change was managed in their organizations. Not surprisingly, only 14% of the audience felt their company was doing a good work on handling change. The surprising and worrisome element is that we live in a world where change is everywhere, yet we don’t know how to manage it.
How companies are approaching change management today has changed in the last years. Cindy and Peg shared with us how it is now part of a company and not an outsourced function as it was before. This makes it more embedded in the business nature and not based on theoretical assumptions. How change is handled will depend on the company’s organizational culture and view on change. Cindy shared with us how this element was the main reason why some initiatives failed at Macy’s in the past. They had to understand how their culture reacted to change before launching anything.
“Changing too much at once can also result in failure” -Cindy Peterson
A common mistake when launching new projects is not understanding the needs of the user. We can compare it to the creation of a new product, if the product is not satisfying a need, no one will buy it. Peg recommends all changemakers understand their user base (making sure there is one in the first place). Involving users in the ideation and design process is a good idea to understand what the current situation is for them and what they need.
“Always have users involved in your design team” — Peg Gerdes
What is the key to success?
Rachel shared with us that during her experience as a consultant she has seen many different solutions and many different ways to manage change. There is not one solution or one perfect approach. Rachel is also seeing a transformation in how to approach change with a more holistic thinking than before. A change will affect many different parts of a company, understanding this and getting feedback will increase the chances of being implemented successfully.
“Make sure to set up feedback loops to know how you’re doing” — Rachel Crocker
Mark, being a change leader in a technology-focused organization, had some very important and valuable advice to the audience: don’t forget we’re humans in a world in which technology is driving change. Communicating and having empathy for your users is the key to embracing change.
“Having empathy for your user base is the single most important piece of change management” — Mark Rout
This takes us to the most important element to have a successful change management approach: strong change leadership. Making everyone understand the why of change can set up for success at the start of any new initiative.
Getting employees on board
As previously stated, the most important thing to set up a successful environment for change is strong leadership. This will get employees’ buy-in on change even if it’s risky or scary. However, strong leadership and management are not common and are often underestimated or idealized.
“There is no master program on soft skills or MBA on emotional intelligence, so it’s our responsibility to develop our managers” — Luca Rosetti
Organizational leaders and managers have an important role as change drivers. Great managers will get their employees trust and buy in much easier than bad bosses. Building a culture of trust will help individuals feel more comfortable with change.
A very important element of strong change leadership is communication. The way you communicate changes will also define the willingness of employees to get on board. During our workshop, attendees learned how to use the skill of storytelling to get employees to buy in on change. The elements of it that stood out were:
- The sense of belonging (we’re in this together)
- Positive Emotions
In conclusion, despite living in a world of technology-driven change we have to approach it as human beings. This means change will be scary for all of us, including the leadership. However, transparency and authenticity throughout all levels of the organization can remove barriers. Management, connection, and trust will be drivers of success and will get employees’ on board despite fear and risk.
Lisa Paredes, Brand and Community Manager at Beaconforce | Lisa joined Beaconforce's early days to be a part of its mission to create work environments that allow people to be the best versions of themselves. Her passion for business and people led her to join Beaconforce's San Francisco team and help create a world where every single person wakes up in the morning and can't wait to go to work.