Thrive with the Only Constant: Change
When the winds of change blow through any organization, there tends to be a wide range of feelings, emotions, and reactions among employees: mayhem, stress, fear, confusion, excitement, and even relief. Most people respond to change by going through phases (much like the stages of grief) when presented with a major shift in business process, strategy, or leadership.
Of course, we all know that change is inevitable, and the only constant is change. When a big change happens in the workplace, most employees don’t have a whole lot of say in the decision or outcome. But everyone can control his or her reactions and responses to change. Having the tools to deal with change and preparing employees with change management training by equipping them with techniques to deal positively with change is critical for every organization and is an essential component of strong leadership. Be a change agent. Teach your organization not just to cope with change, but to thrive with it.
ByFonix is a marketing agency that employs 150 people and has been around for about two decades. The company has always been known for their incredible culture. People love working there because they are free to express their creativity and let their freak flags fly without fear of being reprimanded or judged. No idea is off the table! The company, particularly the leadership team, always embraced the playfulness of the brand that they created and for many years ByFonix thrived as a bright, soulful presence in the marketing world.
The creative, often-quirky ideas that were the foundation for the ByFonix brand were the brainchild of the founder. At one time those ideas were cutting edge and resonated with their ideal clients (resulting in massive growth for over a decade), but over the past few years, they’ve failed to stay relevant and adapt to the changes of the technology revolution.
A couple of years ago, the founder recognized that his ideas had become dated and that the numbers were dropping. He felt that he no longer knew how to stay relevant and transform with the times, so he hired Tim as the new CEO. Tim was recruited by ByFonix to lead the company into the future, increase revenue, and help them to become relevant to the younger generation. As soon as the founder stepped down, things immediately started to change. Unfortunately, the workforce hadn’t been properly prepared for new leadership.
When Tim stepped into his position, he immediately stuck out as “different” than the rest of the team at ByFonix. He came from a more corporate and rigid background, and it showed. His ideas were more conservative (though perhaps more relevant to consumers), and he didn’t really understand or embrace the brand and culture that were the foundation for the history of the company. He believed that they were too laid back, and he immediately wanted the team to become more buttoned-up and modern.
Perhaps ironically, Tim wasn’t intimidated by the new opportunity. He was confident and fearless, attacking his new position fervently. He was excited to be in a top leadership position and came in firing on all cylinders, ready to share and implement the ideas he had to turn ByFonix around. The problem was, the workforce wasn’t ready.
Oliver has been working at ByFonix since the company started. Over the years, he has taken great pride in helping to shape the culture at ByFonix. He’s the ultimate personification of the ByFonix brand. He’s creative, easygoing, and jovial in his everyday attitude around the office, but a bit antiquated in his marketing style. When the founder stepped out of his role, Oliver was devastated. He had been his prodigy and had always looked up to the founder as his mentor. Oliver had emulated his style, both in his work and his philosophy for the company.
When Tim started, Oliver immediately put up his guard and fell into a spell of unhappiness. His attitude, the quality of his work, and his productivity were all affected by the change. He wasn’t prepared for the massive shift in leadership style, and his negativity started to ooze into the rest of the workforce.
The Overarching Sentiment of Nostalgia
It didn’t take long for the culture at ByFonix to become disrupted. Oliver wasn’t alone. Many of the employees that had been working at ByFonix for many years instantly rejected the new paradigm and had a hard time accepting Tim’s new leadership style. Many of them felt that this change was not for the better. They wanted the old “norm,” but those days were far in the past.
Tim’s leadership style, although different from the founder’s, was strategic. He needed to find a way to motivate and inspire the team, and to get them on board so that he could be effective as a leader and take the company to the next level.
Realization Leads to Action
Fortunately, Tim realized that in order for the team to be ready to take ByFonix into the future, the company needed to go through change training to reset expectations, throw out the old model and develop a new way of doing business where everyone has full buy-in. Because this training didn’t happen prior to the founder’s departure, Tim recognized that it would be even more challenging to backpedal and earn the trust of the people in the company, but he was up for the challenge. He decided to bring in a consultant as a neutral party to lead the charge for change and partner with him to navigate the complicated waters of the team’s emotions at ByFonix and begin to build trust and confidence with the team.
Change Training – the What
In order to effectively manage change in any organization, training is key. Designing and implementing a change management program that is proactive and executed prior to any major change delivers the best success. However, if you find yourself in a situation (like Tim’s) when you have to manage a major change after-the-fact, it’s never too late to stop, align, and continue.
Communication is key to any successful change management effort. The age-old saying “honesty is the best policy” most always leads people to thrive through change. Brushing people’s response to change under the rug or being oblivious with regards to your workforces’ fear triggers around what will be different, always causes more pain and drama than dealing with it head-on. Whether it is a major change or a minor change in process, most people do not look at change as a gift, they deal with change as a necessary evil (Gartner reports that in organizational change initiatives 50% fail, 16% produce mixed results and only 34% have clear success). An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of pain when enabling and empowering employees to thrive in the face of uncertainty and change. Avoid (and overcome) the resistance to change by helping people understand the rationale behind decisions. Find out what their fears are by asking them (it seems obvious, but in the moment, it can be elusive).
Change Training – the How
As a manager, be clear when you explain the purpose of the change and desired outcomes. Make sure that you are taking into account the impacts of the change on different employees in different positions. Clarify roles and responsibilities. Remember that communication is a two-way street. Develop a team approach. Make sure people’s concerns are heard. Give them a safe place to ask questions and express their fears. You might not have all the answers; showing them a little bit of vulnerability isn’t always a bad thing. What you can promise is a strong, supporting environment while going through the transition.
As an employee, do your best to be open-minded when you are confronted with a change. You can spread positive energy throughout the workforce by having a reaction that is optimistic and encouraging. If you’re feeling uncertain for the future, dive into the root of your resistance and uncertainty. Ask clarifying questions. Explain the impact that the change may have on your role and be clear about what the unintended consequences of the change may be. Outline the blind spots for the leadership team.
Always remember the big picture as an opportunity to develop response agility when faced with organizational changes. Leaders often have to make tough decisions, so don’t place blame when things don’t go how you anticipated. Try to look at change as an opportunity for growth and refining the vision for the future. If you can’t get on board, sometimes it’s best to move on, which is also okay.
The Future at ByFonix
Tim was right to bring in a third party to help the workforce deal with the change in leadership. He knew that the change had disrupted the company, and his ultimate desire was to lead the organization into acceptance. He stepped away for much of the initial training so that the workforce could candidly discuss their concerns and doubts about the decisions. He re-entered the training halfway through so that he could build trusting relationships with Byfonix employees.
Though Oliver resisted the change when Tim first started, he was able to express his concerns during the change management training. By creating the opportunity for him to give input, he was able to explain his fear of the evolution of the company and what he felt would be lost in the transition. It wasn’t easy for him to work through his hesitations, but with the help of an experienced change agent, he came around.
Being proactive in change management increases your chances of successfully navigating the challenges that accompany this inevitable business obstacle. Even if you don’t foresee a major change in the immediate future of your company, preparing leadership (as well as the rest of the workforce) for the unknown is always a good idea.
Contact us to develop a personalized approach to strategically guiding your company to the next level. You don’t have to cope with change – you can thrive with it.
About This Contributor
Silicon Valley's Top 100 Influential Women in Business!
Margaret empowers business leaders to reshape their company’s culture—sparking increased employee performance by up to 35% and revenue growth of up to 200%.