It’s difficult to talk about workplace change – whether brought by technology, new products or processes, customer demands or market gyrations – without sounding like a cliché.
You often hear, “Change is constant, change is happening, you cannot resist change!” However, change does not have to be approached reactively. Those individuals and organizations that can formulate a plan to adapt to change, and even find opportunities within the change, are the ones that will ultimately be successful.
We recently spoke to Will Hill, a manager in Training & Consulting Services at Thomson Reuters, about how change can be leveraged – and those opportunities within cultivated – for the benefit of the individual and the larger organization. Hill spoke on this subject at the SYNERGY 2018 conference in November.
ANSWERS: Why is it so important to have a game plan in the face of change?
WILL HILL: I think the key is that when change happens, you can either take charge of it or you can get run over by it. Your actions on how you approach change, especially from a leadership perspective, will tell the tale from that end.
If you say, “Hey, there’s a change coming. Let’s be proactive in how we approach it and our strategy for executing and managing through that change,” then you can leverage what happens through the course of change to drive improvement in your business overall.
If you instead say, “Well, it’s just change and we’re going to try to brush it to the side,” you’re going to get run over by the impact of that change and not even realize what’s happened to you.
ANSWERS: In your SYNERGY talk, you described what change can do to an office or workplace. What are those impacts?
HILL: In the course, I spent a little bit of time talking about three specific things change can do in impacting emotions, conversations and focus.
First, we know change elicits emotion. It doesn’t matter what that emotion is – we learn from it! We learn when people are adventurous, fearful or cautious. We cannot let the possibility of negative emotions dissuade us; but rather we should realize that emotion can lead to insight that helps us address all the issues around change.
Second, change forces conversation, and there’s going to be growth that comes with that. Healthy change is not just placed in front of someone without any explanation. Starting the conversation gives us a chance to welcome and widen it. For example, if you are forced to explain the change to others, you yourself will better understand it, especially the “why” part of the change.
Finally, change allows us to focus because when a change is happening, we can focus our efforts to a specific area instead of being spread all over. For example, if a regulation is changing, I know I’ve got to focus more on certain subsets of my customers. Is this change a good or bad thing for them? That kind of focus is always a smart thing for my business and for the question of how I serve my customers better because of this change.
ANSWERS: It sounds like leveraging change in this way could lead to opportunities. What are some of those opportunities?
HILL: There are many. For instance, during a period of change your staff could see a chance to learn new skills, discover new passions or uncover new ways to help the business. And that kind of mix is very healthy.
There are also very concrete parts of your business that could see opportunities in change, such as:
- Process Analysis – Change can offer you a sort of pause that gives you a chance to do a reality check and ask your team some tough questions. They may claim it is one way and have always done it that way, but is that truly the best way? How do they perform the steps in a given task? This is the time to discuss new ideas, process mapping and getting more visual with how your team gets things done.
- Process Documentation – This is a chance to create or ensure consistency with operational changes. In fact, lots of change also is a good reason to document, and to make sure you know where most recent standards reside. While we know the process change in the moment, what about later? How can we make sure our processes are consistent going forward? More importantly, documentation during ongoing change is a key element for future feedback because you must have something objective to evaluate against.
- Evaluations – This is one of the most missed opportunities in change, because all too often firms will make a change, but not take the time to look back and evaluate what is or isn’t working, or where opportunity for improvement exists. In fact, it’s important to set up this stage in the middle of a big change: Tell people when the initial evaluation period will be; then tell them how feedback will be solicited. Doing this will allow your staff to be prepared to give feedback on change, and it will result in better responses.
ANSWERS: What are the longer-term benefits to having a plan around adapting to change?
HILL: This is all about being consistent with how you approach change, now and in the future. And there are several reasons why having a game plan brings concrete benefits in the long term as well. For example:
- Consistency – As we do “another change,” we at least are familiar with how the process will work. It allows for some specialization by staff in a particular phase of change, which is a skill that can be leveraged across any change in the firm. In a very real sense, being prepared really creates a known in an unknown situation.
- Reference Points – When we are in the middle of tough change, communication gets even more challenging, as I mentioned. By handling change consistently, we create historical reference points that are shared in common. “Remember when we did X, and we couldn’t see how it would work? But we stuck to the plan and it worked … remember? Well, here we are again!” That’s why it’s so critical to tell your story that references another service creation or other period of change. This story should be widely shared, especially with people who were not there at the time.
- Layered Timelines – While it might be very nice to just change one thing at a time so that full concentration can be given the one item at hand, rarely do things work that cleanly. By having a consistent process, however, you can look at multiple timelines for new projects, innovative process changes or client demand. You can then layer all these changes properly from a planning perspective. This should help with spreading the work and connecting pieces together.
Having a game plan not only allows you to address each instance of change more consistently and practically, it also allows you to search within the change for new opportunities, efficiencies or process improvements. So, if you have a model that demonstrates to your team how your firm attacks internal change each time, you will benefit.