Manager Skills Series: Managing Change

Guest post by Ken Burnett, VP/Director of Training and Business Development, Bank of American Fork

This series is written from experience and is part of Bank of American Fork’s management training program. The program embraces the philosophy that management is a skill-based job, and managers need to learn specific skills to be successful.

With the rapid pace of change, if your organization doesn’t learn and institutionalize the skill of managing change you could be in trouble. Firms that are able to manage change initiative are at the top of the Fortune 500. Conversely, teams that can’t manage change are performing at the bottom. Managing change is a learned skill. The following are a few things to consider when facing organizational change.

Before you can embark on change you need to have a compelling reason for the change. A change based on an emotional reaction to a problem will result in an emotional solution that will harm the organization. At the highest level, every business change case should take the form of a logical argument:

1. Identify the problem, inhibitor, new requirement or law that is affecting desired business performance.

2. Describe the need for change or result of not changing.

3. Determine a potential solution to solve the problem.

4. List the goal or result that can be measured in terms of cost, quality, speed, or compliance.

5. Determine if the expected value of the change exceeds the cost of not changing – the return on investment.

The art and science of the business case is to provide sufficient, but not excessive, documentation of these argument elements to facilitate an executive “go” or “no go” decision.

Now that I have your attention, I think you will be surprised at the first place you should start.

Every change is first a cultural issue. You need project teams to work on the new procedures, but if the change is a cultural mismatch, you are doomed to failure. Here is an easy predictor: Write down three to five words or phrases that describe your organization’s value proposition in the marketplace and how you get work done. Then write down how the proposed change will impact those descriptions of your organization.

For example, let’s say that you wrote down that your organization provides value by being nimble. If you try to implement a new initiative that adds processes and additional structure you have to deal with the cultural clash issue first. It is almost a defense mechanism that an organization will reject a change against its culture.

There are some critical steps to resolving a culture clash:

1. Be sure that this is something worth taking on. If you don’t want to do the leg work, stop now.

2. Validate the existing culture, while introducing the change. This is tricky. You need to show how the change initiative fits within your culture. Using the previous example: Help your associates understand that adding procedures will streamline work so that you have more resources to be nimble.

3. Give the organization time to organically accept the change through a lot of communication. The result will be a change initiative that enhances the organization’s culture, rather than detracts from it.

The next guiding concept is to focus on the people, instead of the process or training or system. You need to appeal to the heart, then to the head, even with organizational change. You have to get buy-in from the associates by communicating the business case, the “What’s in it for me?”, and then listen. After going through more than a few change initiatives, I have learned a few lessons regarding communication during change. Here are some of them:

• Communicate in different ways–e-mail, paper, phone, text, and intranet.

• Build channels–committees, inboxes, helpdesks, and lunches with management–to have two-way communication with those affected by the change.

• Allow for style differences to exist. Those who are risk takers and creative will embrace the change too quickly, and detail-oriented and risk-adverse associates will be wary of change.

• Understand the difference between a rant or blowing off steam, by someone frustrated with the change in the moment and someone who is trying to be subversive to the change by complaining about it and getting others to join their cause.

• Listen and ask for specifics and assign accountability if associates have questions or concerns.

• Stay on point and on message regarding the benefits and urgency of the change

• Don’t get emotionally hooked—focus on objective points instead of emotions.

Read more of the manager skills series: Effective coaching, Productivity through employee development, Organizational communication. Coming soon: Strategic planning, Effective discipline, Project management.

Ken Burnett is vice president/director of training and business development for Bank of American Fork. He is responsible for training nearly 300 employees on a variety of topics, including coaching and feedback for dozens of senior managers within the organization.

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