5 Questions About Change Management

Julie Mack shares tips for overseeing a change.


At 5 by 5 Design we believe it’s possible to change the world by posing the right questions, listening to the honest answers, and following the path that emerges from the dialogue. Today we’re asking about change management.

Julie Mack, owner of Phase V Consulting, offers leadership, training, and tools to improve processes, project management, and strategic navigation through critical times of growth or change. We’ve asked her how change management can be used to build brands, realize greater human potential, retain customers, and achieve financial goals.

1. What matters most during times of change?

Change is hard. It’s painful and often avoided until it’s critical. While the change may simply be seen as a way to “fix what is broken,” clients realize that what matters most is approaching change in a way that strengthens them as an organization. Clients will be concerned about internal staff morale; “We are already under pressure to perform and now we need to learn something new?” They’ll be concerned about whether this change will actually bring about the results they expect, “Are we doing the right thing?” And, they may be hearing from external stakeholders, “Are you listening to me? Do you understand how to change my perception of your organization?” They’ll want to juggle all of these concerns in an efficient manner, with the least disruption possible, and be a stronger organization for having put forth the effort.

2. What steps and tools do you use to support your work?

The first step is to conduct an honest assessment of the situation. I help clients discover what the underlying problems are: is an internal system, process, or workflow broken, ineffective, or simply not being used properly? We work together to identify as best we can what is causing the gap in what is expected and what is being delivered. This is a stakeholder analysis and should include internal and external interviews and surveys. Can clients do this objectively? If they have previous data to look back on, we’ll use it as a baseline to measure the change impact. A step further is to determine who can lead the change. Is it possible to use the client’s internal resources, or do they need outside help? Many times, hiring a consultant can provide a truly objective assessment, let them know they’re on the right track, or fully take on implementation of change initiatives to remedy their situation.

With any change initiative, a communication plan is key. It’s important to let internal and external stakeholders know how the issues are being addressed. Select a consistent communication tool, whether it’s through email, updates to an intranet, or regular in person meetings or a combination of tools. Use whichever tool set will serve the stakeholders the best.

Either way you choose to approach the change implementation, internally or using external resources, you’ll need a way to keep everyone focused and on task. The approach should be detailed, actionable, and include a step-by-step plan to working through the issues. This is usually a roadmap or dashboard. A roadmap is more appropriate for changes that require iterative steps. A dashboard is more appropriate if the change focuses on improving certain metrics. Above all else, we’ll consistently communicate on progress and celebrate each step of the way. And, we won’t be afraid to change paths if needed, and we won’t forget to communicate if we do!

Clients will be encouraged to choose a sponsor for their change initiative. This should be an internal leader who will take responsibility for the plan and communicate the vision for the organization. This person has the appropriate visibility to interface with everyone to gain “buy-in.” Buy-in happens when it’s clear that the stakeholders have been listened to and they understand what is happening and what to expect along the way.

Finally, we’ll establish appropriate testing mechanisms. These could be readiness testing check-ins, adoption tracking, utilization reporting, or pilot programs. These mechanisms help us understand how we’re progressing toward our goals. Once we’ve reached the desired results, it will be important to continue to review and revise. We must accept that change is constant, and that most businesses will benefit from using thoughtful change management strategies to be competitive and successful.

3. What challenges have you encountered?

Resistance to the change is the biggest challenge. And a common roadblock is time. You’ll hear, “How do we have time to put into this, and do our jobs?” From a consultant or leadership standpoint, I would turn that around and ask, “How do we not take the time to fix this, and be sure we get it right?” If an organization’s brand perception is at stake, it’s that important, and the sponsor will be key to overcoming the resistance and removing the roadblocks along the way.

4. Do you have an example of how change management improved brand experience?

Yes, I have a personal example. An organization I worked for implemented a very robust change management process to improve their corporate culture as a strategy to reduce employee turnover. They systematically brought about culture changes through all levels of the organization, from the top down. It opened my eyes to the importance of sponsors as an essential element of successful change management. I was exposed to the highest levels of leadership of this company talking openly about their own personal struggles with the organization. It was because of this well-managed, open, and honest approach that my brand experience of the company was positively changed.

5. What new trends have you recognized in the area of change management?

Hiring professional, experienced, external change management resources is happening more often now than in the past. A consultative approach is often best so that organizations are assured of objective assessments and unencumbered execution of the change process. I also see job descriptions for management positions now are including change management capabilities and requirements. Management job titles are changing to be more transparent about the constancy of change in organizations, such as a “Change Management & Communication Specialist” role being added to communications departments within small and large organizations.

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