When change-management efforts fail, it’s worth pondering if it was really a lack of efforts that ruined everything. That is, maybe it’s less about what leaders did and more about what they didn’t do.
This week, I’ve been sharing a series of posts featuring what 25 senior executives at leading organizations told me about how they manage change. Their insights come from an article I wrote some years back, but they are just as relevant now.
Today, in the series’ third and final post, I want to highlight the role that leadership and communication play when managing change.
Read below what execs from Verizon, MassMutual, Novartis, and other big companies have to say about leading and communicating change. (Note that companies and titles reflect people’s roles at the time the article was published. In fact, today almost none of the 25 executives interviewed work for the same corporation and even fewer hold the same job. You know, things change. To view their full comments, and those of other executives, check out the original article, “Will Your People Be Ready?”.)
Lauren Chesley, Director of Change Execution, Verizon
There’s a misconception that what makes change difficult is the physical movement of workers. Actually, it’s ensuring that employees make a psychological transition that challenges us most. If all of your life, you worked in one kind of job, it becomes part of your personal identity. Now all of a sudden, you have to do something new, and you think, “Wait, I’m not an engineer. This new job is not who I am; it’s not how I ever saw myself.” Managing change isn’t really about focusing on developing people’s technical skills—it’s about helping people understand how to adjust their personal identities.
Daniel Sonsino, VP of Talent Management, Learning, and Development, Polycom
For a change to be successful, you’ve got to take responsibility and accountability for it from the inside, have visible champions across the organization, paint a picture of the end state for all employees, engage them throughout the process, and demonstrate quick wins. With everyone working toward the same goal, success is inevitable.
Kirsten Marriner, Senior VP, Director of Talent Management and Development, Fifth Third Bank
Twenty years ago, I worked for a small bank that was moving from tellers who just processed transactions to a sales culture. The bank wanted tellers to initiate conversations to sell products and services. Some people didn’t want to do that; they picked a bank-teller job because they liked providing service, period. So some self-selected out because they realized the job was no longer for them. That’s OK. By being clear on expectations, the bank was able to retain the right workers.
Debra Clawar, Global Head of Talent Management, Leadership Development, and Staffing, Novartis Pharma
A big piece of implementing change effectively has been helping executives understand their role as change leaders rather than simply change managers. Change leaders not only understand the change journey but take an active role in helping others along that process. A leader’s ability to be self-aware, to use that awareness consciously to the benefit of others, is a key ability of change leadership.
Mary Slaughter, Senior VP of Talent Management and Development, Sun Trust Bank
We’ve also gotten more specific about defining jobs, because in an industry immersed in so much change and ambiguity, an organization should strive to not introduce even more uncertainty due to unclear decision-making processes. With ongoing changes such as increasing regulation, changing client needs, and other global market forces, it is important to be really clear about decision-making processes. We’ve had to get more specific about role clarity, defining not just what the company needs our teammates to do but what it does not need them to.
Jan Walstrom, Chief Learning Officer, C2HM Hill
Change is really, really hard and takes way longer than you could ever want to imagine. People try to fight change; we try to shove ourselves against this rock as if we’re going to stop change from happening, when frankly, feeling uncomfortable is good because we don’t challenge ourselves without being stressed. The real way to grow is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s where good leadership comes in. It’s up to leaders to get their people to be part of the change. Unfortunately, the most common mistakes managers make is that they’re willing to declare victory too soon. You can’t over-communicate. We encourage our leaders to say the same message 52 different ways, like a broken record, to get it through to people so they embrace and act on change. We struggle with this every day, and though we’re not great at this yet, we’re working like the dickens to get better at it.
Scott Cohen, VP of Talent Practices, MassMutual
Because every day can bring new challenges, each day begins with groups engaged in one-hour huddles facilitated by managers. During these meetings, employees put up metrics on white boards to review the previous day’s accomplishments and discuss potential new challenges they’ll face. These meetings give everyone a chance to be tuned in, in real time, to what everyone’s working on and how they can help each other.
View entire remarks in “Will Your People Be Ready?”.
Also check out other post in this series: