Until March 2020, the default for most organizations was, “Work happens at the workplace from 8 to 5”. Then overnight, we couldn’t go to work—and work happened at home. As organizations begin to contemplate the future and what the new norms will be, how they implement the next set of changes will be very interesting to watch. A recent article in Fast Company outlined IBM and Slack’s approach.
As most employees indicate they prefer a hybrid model, the companies are following three principles to get there:
1.New design principles for how work gets done. Teams will be thinking deeply about what needs to be done together and what can be done at home.
2. Flexible hours to support employees. Their goal is to support employees thriving, personally and professionally. What a significant change from just 15 months ago for many organizations?!
3. Rebuilding the infrastructure of collaboration. For example, Slack declared their digital infrastructure is the new headquarters, leveling the playing field for all employees regardless of location.
It seems dislocation is a significant change driver. Yet as leaders, we won’t see a catalyst as significant as the pandemic again in our lifetime. We must develop the mindset and skills to drive organizational change without that burning platform.
Change Is a Process
We often think of change as a technical process. A process or product is going to revolutionize the business and we can’t wait to get it out there. It’s the “If we build it, they will come” mentality. For example, Slack’s technical move was to a digital headquarters.
The technical side is just part of the story though. Focusing purely on technical implementation while neglecting to plan how to lead change implementation can create a painful—or worse, an unsuccessful transition. In the coming months Slack will have to behaviorally convince all employees to feel comfortable with the move to digital HQ. How would that go down at your organization?
What we know is that successful change is not about the quality of the idea. One study (unsurprisingly) found that 100 percent of successful change initiatives had good technical solutions.
However, the same study found that 98 percent of unsuccessful change initiatives also had good technical solutions. A good idea is not enough…we also need the right people to support the change.
As team and organizational leaders, we are both agents of change and influencers. Change can’t be a one-time, top-down event. At The Wunderlin Company, we coach clients through a four-step change leadership process:
- Initiate change by grounding it in a solid vision and a shared need.
- Mobilize commitment by involving employees in defining how they’ll benefit and inviting them to shape outcomes.
- Transition to the new systems and processes.
- Make change last by monitoring results, making adjustments, and fully adopting the new way of business.
A savvy change leader understands the complex interplay of these four elements and realizes that the success of any change depends on the support of those affected.
Planning for Change
From a global pandemic to rapidly accelerating societal movements—lately, we’ve experienced monumental change. It’s top of mind for many Wunderlin Company clients. They continue to ask us: “What’s the best way to accelerate change adoption?”
The need to excel at change leadership is stronger than ever as we return to a post-pandemic world. Many organizations are redefiining themselves—pivoting into new business and structural models and reshaping what success means for them.
Yet change leadership still leaves many perplexed. Read on for some tips to successfully drive change in your organization.
What Managing Change Really Means
It may surprise you to learn that the tough part of leading change is not the change itself. In fact, most of our work deals with the behavioral side of change—creating acceptance across the enterprise.
A flawless idea without a well-developed acceptance plan can ensure individual and collective resistance, along with reactions ranging from apathy to downright sabotage. To predict an initiave’s outcome, we use an Equation for Success: QxA=E The excellence of a result is equal to the quality of a solution x an organization’s acceptance of that solution.
Put simply, you can have a great solution, but if people don’t accept it, you won’t get the results you want. So inspiring buy-in is critical.
As a change leader, consider your team’s skills when dealing with the behavioral aspects of change:
- How are my team’s influencing skills?
- What about their communication skills?
- Can they address difficult questions like:
- “Where are we meeting resistance?”
- “What do our employees need to affect this change?”
- “How can we influence them to support the change?”
- “Can they help establish the next milestone?”
Use these questions to identify the skills your teams need to develop to positively influence others to adopt change.
Change Management: Real Life Examples
Example 1: The Proof is in the Pudding
More than a decade ago when DDW The Color House was at a major inflection point. To handle it, they implemented Change Acceleration Projects (CAP) teams for each of the strategic projects that collectively touched their entire global company. These cross functional teams included people from all levels of the organization and from all 13 global manufacturing facilities. Together, they moved the company forward on topics like best-in-class clean operations in manufacturing facilities, development of a new company brand, and succession planning and development to prepare for more growth.
“Those first CAP teams served our company and built on our culture on several levels,” said Elaine Gravatte, DDW President and COO. “Each team delivered tangible results that moved the company forward in ways from which we are still benefitting today. The team members learned how to lead changes in the company, and took that knowledge back into their day-to-day work. And, the teams did real strategic work that, in the past, our senior leaders had done. We continue to form CAP teams for essential company changes today, and more importantly, we are continually striving to embed in our leaders an understanding of change leadership in their skill set. We would not be where we are today without this ongoing work. It has never been about how ‘good’ the ideas are – it has been about our ability to mobilize our global work teams to support those ideas and make it happen.”
These issues were more about behavioral support and buy in than the ideas themselves. As senior leaders proved they were serious about the change initiative—and let the teams do their work—commitment increased.
The early experiences with change management helped senior management and the change acceleration teams understand how to really “bake in” a culture difference across the globe.
Example 2: Misaligned Leadership
In a recent conversation on our podcast with marketing executive Adam Bleibtreu, we discussed the difficulty of managing change when a leadership team isn’t entirely aligned. How can we move forward when one leader champions the change at a nine on a scale of 1-10, but their colleague’s lukewarm acceptance put them at a four?
Perfect alignment from leadership isn’t always attainable, and in fact, isn’t always necessary. What’s most important is to ensure those who will be interfacing with that change are all-in. For example, our consultant Julie oversaw change management on a large strategic shift while working with Adam at the creative and digital recruitment firm, Creative Circle. The change leaders were focused on getting leadership on board. But thanks to a few frank conversations, it became clear that it was most essential the recruiters understood and supported the change. After all, they were the people working day in and day out with the company’s workforce. Their buy-in was essential to success. The VP, who was less involved in day to day dealings could stay at a lukewarm 4 until they saw results!
Example 3: Change Management Gets Personal
Managing change is as difficult in our personal lives as it is in our professional lives. Often, that means sitting in an uncomfortable situation waiting for personal buy-in. “Sitting in discomfort is where growth occurs,” our friend Luckett Davidson shared on a recent episode of The Changing Times podcast. Luckett beautifully illustrates the process of personal change as moving from an old shore to a new one. There may be choppy water in-between, but you’ll come out better on the other end.
Dave Mochel, another of our favorite coaches and authors had similar wisdom to share with us. On our podcast, Dave told us that learning to work in the discomfort rather than against it is key to unlocking change in one’s life. To practice, he swims in the Pacific ocean (without a wetsuit!) every day and even advocates for taking a cold shower occasionally for a similar effect. The practice of working in discomfort physically teaches him to do the same in his work and personal life.
Let’s face it: change is difficult—whether that change is personal or organizational. Just like each of us, organizations have strong habits and memories that work against adopting something new. So whether you are leading a broad organizational change….or working on something closer to home, remember that a well-rounded approach will help you succeed. Be sure to invoke the behavioral and rational portions involved—and find a way to make adopting the change easier leaning in—rather than working against the change.
Engage and inspire your team to be part of the change process. The behavioral side is where we must take the most care and where we’ll face the most resistance if we neglect it. And if you’re stuck, remember that The Wunderlin Company is here to help. Get in touch to talk about accelerating change at your organization.
- Touchstone Guides: Our friend Luckett’s coaching practice, where you can see her “Old Shore, New Shore” guide.
- Good Life Practice by Dave Mochel
- Culture Renovation: 18 Leadership Actions To Build an Unshakeable Company Kevin Oakes
- Managing Transitions by William Bridges
- TWC Company CAP / Change Leadership Resources