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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing joy in the workplace. I’m Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting. With me is my co-host and dear friend JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink, an HR consulting firm.
Our topic today is change management. Almost every business I work with periodically struggles with change implementation, change acceptance, and change communication. We hope this episode is a good reminder to recognize not everyone in an organization embraces change at the same time. Leaders taking time to understand reluctance, educating about the why behind the change, and being more present and accessible through the change often brings better outcomes. So why are staff members sometimes averse to change? Daniella Whyte wrote an article in November 2016 that appeared on the inc.com website entitled, “Five Reasons People Resist Change and What We Can Do About It.” JoDee, let’s share those five reasons that Daniella wrote about.
Yeah, so number one, people fear being different, right? I’ve read a lot about that topic, about just our fear of being different than others, doing something different than the way others are doing it, and especially when there is no precedent for that.
I bet that’s never been a fear of yours. You like to be a little different, don’t you? But that’s not, I don’t think, normal…normally…not to say “normal people,” but I want to say normally, people are like, “I don’t…I don’t really want to get out of my comfort zone.” Well, the number two reason – people feel overwhelmed or stressed a lot of the time, and so, especially in the world of work, introducing a change when people are too stretched emotionally can really be taxing.
Number three that – you mentioned it briefly – people fear departure from the status quo, right? We have to get out of our comfort zone, and maybe something we’ve done a long time that we’ve gotten used to, and now we have to make that change, and it’s hard. It can be hard.
Sure. Number four, people lack trust in the people making changes. Gallup has done so much research in this area. The fact is, if you want to implement sustainable change, people have to believe that their leaders have their back, that the new solution is really a better future, all of those things. So if you’re thinking about doing change, maybe you need to think about, How can we help build up the trust that employees have in us.
And number five, people know that change brings a new set of opportunities, but also problems.
To get practical advice on how we lead through change, we’ve invited two guests, one a business leader and one an HR professional. It’s my pleasure to introduce Emmett Vollenweider. Emmett is a recently retired executive from a global financial company who spent over 40 years in banking. In his career, Emmett had 22 jobs, 21 bosses, and relocated across the country four times. If those changes weren’t enough, Emmett played key roles in 13 conversions and nine company mergers. Emmett, it hurts my head to even think about it. Welcome.
Thank you very much, Susan and JoDee. It’s a pleasure to be here. Boy, thinking back to all those different bosses that I ran off, gee whiz. It was a great run, though, you know, and as rough as that sounds, basically, I was with just one firm throughout all that. We just kept merging and being acquired and things like that. So it was quite a run. It was a lot of fun.
Change had to be in your DNA in order to just roll with things, right?
Yeah, you learn quickly. You know, my first big job, I guess, was when I was with a Louisiana bank. It was a fairly small one, it had about 120 branches, something like that. And we were merging with a large global bank. And I’d never run a conversion where you’re impacting, you know, hundreds of thousands if not millions of customers, and thousands of employees. Of course, I always worked on the technical side. I was absolutely scared to death.
It’s so funny, Emmett. That’s when I first met you, and I remember thinking, I thought that you were unflappable. The fact that you were scared is news to me, because you seemed so calm and graceful during all this chaos that was happening down in Louisiana.
That’s very kind of you to say, but I’ve got to tell the truth. I was overwhelmed and I was afraid of failing. I mean, imagine you’re joining this big global bank and they said, Okay, we’re gonna change a few things, like all of your products, all of your systems, every sign that you have, we’re gonna have new job titles, new responsibilities, new compensation plans, new forms, new processes, on and on and on. And I was just scared to death that I was gonna mess up.
You certainly did not. Did you have any other previous change management experience in your background – I know you were in IT – or is this was just the first time you really had to do something of that magnitude?
Oh, no question. It’s the first time I’ve ever been anywhere near something of that magnitude. I’d done a number of different system conversions, but basically, it was like one bank with four branches merging into another bank with 10 branches, so they were conversions that you could do almost on paper at the time. So I’d been through small things, and on the technical side, but as I mentioned earlier, this was – this big one down in Louisiana – was the first one where it ever touched real customers, and so many of them, and there were so many changes across the board, instead of just changing out systems.
What were one or two other changes that you had that were maybe some of the most broadest or most impactful changes you…you went through in your career?
JoDee, the first one is fairly easy, because it’s…it’s the one I think I’m most proud of, and that was to turn around customer service at this very large bank that I was working at at the time. It was one of the largest banks in the country and in the world, and at the time I was asked to lead that effort across the bank, we were rated dead last among the large banks. Dead last. And through a lot of hard work by a lot of people and tremendous support by our executive management team, in a three year period, we went from worst to first among the big banks. It was…it was something I was very proud of, and it was just so much fun to focus on…get everyone focused on the customer, and recognize and reward people for doing things that are right for customers. So that that’s the one that I’m most proud of.
What were some things you did, like, to approach that? It sounds like if you were at the bottom, you could only get better.
Right! What did we do? I guess the first thing was you had to develop a plan. And understanding that plans change, you still have to have something. “This is what we’re going to do.” And where I started was developing the plan and then presenting it to senior people across the whole place, and attempting to get their buy in, and what things they objected to…have them make alterations to the plan. But you got to have a top down support for what you’re doing. So that was first. And then the second thing – and I’ll sound like a broken record throughout our conversation today – is you’ve got to get face to face with all levels of employees to relay the plan. And most importantly, what so many people miss, is explain to them why this is important, why we’re going to do this. So I remember after we came up with a plan to turn around customer service, we did what we called “roadshows” at the time, and we traveled around the country and met with thousands of employees in different cities across the US, and we shared with them exactly what we’re going to do. Develop the plan, review the plan, get face to face with folks – as much as you can, of course, nowadays. You can do it on Zoom fairly easy. But getting face to face is critical. I’ll give you one more, and that’s to relentlessly measure results. You’ve got to find out if, when you’re executing that plan, is it accomplishing what you thought it would? And if you’re not measuring it, you can’t manage it. So I think that’s critically important as well, JoDee.
Are there some things along the way that maybe weren’t working, or you learned the hard way?
Yeah. Wow. Yeah, there’s one that comes to mind immediately, in the first year of our effort to turn around customer satisfaction. One of the things I missed was focusing on employee satisfaction first. If you look at folks like Southwest Airlines or Enterprise, who have great customer satisfaction scores, one of the things they do is they make their place a great place to work. And I missed that. I missed the importance of recognizing our employees, rewarding our employees, catching them doing the right things right, celebrating their successes. So right at the beginning of year two of that turnaround effort, we changed things to focus on our employees first. If you don’t have happy employees, you’ll never have happy customers. In fact – I’ll just mention this real quickly – one of the things we did was we looked at branches that were basically a few miles away from each other, and some had real high customer satisfaction, and others had poor customer satisfaction. And what we learned was in those branches with poor customer satisfaction, they also weren’t really happy with the with the work area, and so we needed to work on that as well. So I missed it, and we had to go back and correct it. And it was a good learning.
Two key things I think you said in there. One, obviously, about focusing on the people, but also explaining the why. I think sometimes when we have a plan, we’re so ready to to jump in and focus on the what or focus on the goal of improving – in your case, improving customer satisfaction – and forgetting to share the why, and also to take care of the people who are implementing the change.
You’re so right. And you have the opportunity to explain to people why and then let them ask questions safely back to you. You know, not shooting the messenger when they say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, that doesn’t really make any sense. Why wouldn’t we do it this way?”. So you have to give them that opportunity, and then you can explain why you would go the way that you prefer to go or you initially planned to go, or you can alter your plan. So I think making it safe to get that feedback, instead of, you know, coming down and landing in a city and saying, “Hey, intergalactic world headquarters is here to tell you exactly how we’re going to do things.” Rather, it’s, “Here’s what we’re thinking. Here’s why we think we think that way. What do you think?” And if you do those things, then when the meeting ends, you’re going to have more buy in.
I love that, because I have seen leaders – because to them, they think the why is so obvious – and then they start to get angry when the recipients of the change are like, “Well, I’m not sure that’s really going to work,” and then they get defensive. So absolutely beautiful to understand, you got to have to have a safe zone to challenge, and you might end up with a better change than intergalactic thought of. Right? So Emmett, as your career progressed, I had the chance to work with you a second time and as a HR Business Partner, when you were in charge of a national retail administration group, and I thought one of the amazing things that you accomplished in that role was helping the organization gain control of all the communication, the policy, the process changes, that kept hitting all of these who knows how many tens of thousands of employees that were affected by a change. At the time, I was in HR, and every once while we would have a change that we thought, “Well, this is just a small thing. We need to tell all those employees,” and you had a group of people say “Stop, we’ve got to put it on the calendar, because we can’t keep inundating these people, because they’re not going to be able to serve our clients.” It was absolutely brilliant. How did you conceive of it, how did you go about it, and how did you make it work?
That was my first major assignment when I moved from the field where I’d spent 10 years into a, like you said, branch administration, retail administration, was to organize things so that our folks didn’t feel inundated and also to improve the effectiveness of their execution. And that was the challenge that I was given. The advantage I had, Susan, was I came from the field, and so I was a victim of – I shouldn’t say it that way – but anyway, a victim of of poor change management. And some of the things that I felt were going on that was that…was that everything was priority one. You couldn’t tell what was really important and what wasn’t. There were memos, emails, instructions, coming from all kinds of different directions, different people telling you what to do and how to do it. Sometimes it conflicted, and sometimes the priorities and the timelines overlapped. The other thing I remember was that priorities were always being rejiggered, so we’d have the focus du jour, you know, and this is the most important thing this week, and then next week, we have a new most important thing. The things were bouncing around on us. So coming from the field and feeling that way, I wanted to make some of those things go away. So I remember the first thing I did was to shut down all communications to the folks in the field, which was very unpopular.
It was heresy. Yes.
Yes. It was, “What do you mean, we can’t send emails? We can’t go meet with them?” And it was, “No, you can’t, because they’re confused as to what’s really important and how to do it, and so we’re just gonna have one channel for communications. It’s called the source, and if you want to put the word out, come talk to us and we’ll put it in simple words, consistent words for the field to understand, so that it’ll keep the likelihood of effective implementation of your change is increased.” So that was number one, shut down all of these different channels so you’re not getting bombarded. We also said, as you did, Susan, that all change needed to come to this one group, and it was a very unpopular group, because we said no about two thirds of the time.
I got a few noes.
Hopefully…hopefully, we took the time to explain why.
Yeah, and I…you’re right. And honestly, it was the right thing to do. Yes.
Gosh, that’s major, though. I can’t even imagine telling people, like, you can’t communicate at all except through us.
Yeah, well, one of the things we had to explain, JoDee, was that if you come through us, we will make the likelihood of effective implementation of your change increase, because we’re going to load balance change, because you might have picked a week to communicate it when they’re getting crushed. Or you might be communicating something that just last week, they got something that conflicted with what you said. So we’re going to increase the likelihood of what you communicate is effective. And in times where we said no, we tried hard to explain why we said no, tell them when we might get around to it or why it isn’t…we aren’t going to do it. Just a real quick example. I remember requests that we got, we…we set up some training for a new way to do things, one of…one of the products that we offered, and our change management team said, “Why don’t we just change the computer system?” And they said, “Well, that’ll take a month.” Well, okay, let’s take the month instead of training our people for the next three weeks on something that was going to, you know, be altered anyway when we fix the system. So those were some of the things that that we did just to structure change, organize change, and then make it as as simple as possible for our folks to digest.
So, for all the changes, mergers, acquisitions, leadership title changes that you’ve been through, what’s some key advice that you have for other business leaders as they’re getting ready to lead their teams through change?
Let’s start with make things as simple as possible. I mean, get rid of jargon. Make sure that the words you’re using as you explain the change are words that the folks who are receiving the change understand. Even simple things that one group might think “this is what you call it,” another group might say, “No, we don’t call it that we call it something different,” so make every change as simple as possible. We talked earlier about explaining why, making sure that you tell folks why we’re making this change so they can get their hearts in it as well, they don’t think you’re just coming down with another change for the sake of change. I’m gonna give you two more. Get objections out in the open. Make it as safe as possible for people to object and to tell you why they don’t like this change or they think there’s a better way to do it. If you can make it safe, then you can get those objections out in the open, you can overcome them, and then you can win folks’ hearts and minds as you move forward with the adjusted change. And then, I guess, last, but not at all least, is to celebrate achievements. When you celebrate the fact that you’ve accomplished something big or something important and you give all of the credit to the people who implemented the change, then you’re going to re-recruit them for the next change that comes along. There’s never too much appreciation, so give away that appreciation. If it goes wrong, if there’s a problem with the change, you take the blame. “I did it. It’s my fault. I didn’t organize the changes effectively.” But I would just close with, there’s never ever, ever too much appreciation.
Amen to that. Man. And it’s a great entree to us saying how much we appreciate you coming to today’s podcast, Emmett. Just great insights. Very, very helpful. And I know it’s going to be very useful to our listeners.
Thank you, Susan, and thank you, JoDee.
Hey, thank you.
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Our HR professional that we’ve invited here today is Delia Mallory of D. Mallory Enterprises in New Albany, Ohio. She is an organizational development consultant and coach and a certified change management practitioner. Designing, supporting, and leading change initiatives with business partners from employers like Chase Bank and Nationwide, and with clients like Ohio Health, USC, Express, and more has given her insights in how to successfully move organizations forward. Welcome, Delia.
Hi, Susan and JoDee. Thanks for having me.
So glad that you’re here. So, first question for you. When you have a client meeting to embark on a significant change, where do you start?
Yeah, that’s a great question and kind of the million dollar question. So, you know, as with any other engagement, my first question of a client is always, you know, “What is it that you hope to accomplish?” So in that, you know, there’s…there’s a lot that you’re going to be able to unpack. So what you’re trying to get out of that in this scenario is, you know, what is the vision for the change that you’re…that you’re undergoing? And you’re trying to get a sense of what the culture is, you know, in terms of communication styles, you know, resistance, just typical, you know, kind of ways of working. And then you also want to get a sense of how motivated is the impacted group going to be around the change? So that’s going to…that’s going to give you a lot of insight. So, for example, so everyone I know, you know, in corporate America is looking at implementing some sort of COVID protocol or practices. So looking at that as an example, maybe an org vision might be, you know, to ensure the health and safety of all employees while they’re at work, or to continue to deliver optimal services and products to the customers. So those would be a compelling vision. You want to make sure your vision is compelling. And so you also, in that, want to communicate the consequences if this change doesn’t happen. Like, for example, with…with the health and safety, you want to make sure…you want them to really understand the risk that…that’s there in terms of, you know, having an unsafe and unhealthy workplace and its impact on that individual and their family. Or in the case of, you know, delivering optimal services, a loss of reputation, or the potential loss of business, that could mean a potential loss of your livelihood. So you want to make it real for them in those ways.
So you want to make sure they have a vision, and then also a sense of urgency, that we’re going to have to do something.
Absolutely. And just some other quick things would be, one, to know, you know, who the sponsors are going to be. And generally, I like to recommend, you know, that there is at least one executive sponsor, depending on the size of the project. And then you might want to have some boots on the ground sponsors as well, like, kind of frontline folks who are serving in a sponsor role in an active and visible capacity. And then you kind of want to understand questions about, you know, what’s…what’s happening now? You know, what are the practices now? What’s the future state? What’s the timeline? What does the project team look like? And then finally, you want to think through, help them think through their budget. For example, it would be great if there was money set aside in the whole scheme for recognition and rewards, because that’s going to be a key thing, especially to help motivate folks. So those would be some things that we keep in mind.
Once you’ve identified the change sponsors, who else do you need to engage, and how do you go about engaging them?
After you’ve…you’ve really nailed down the sponsors and enlisted their engagement, you want to get their input on who some other key stakeholders might be. You want to go deeper into the organization. You want to make sure that…that…that, you know, for example, if this is in the example that I gave about, you know, COVID protocol, you want to make sure that this change really touches the ultimate end user. So you want to make sure that you talk with and solicit feedback from key stakeholders all throughout the organization so you have a good random sampling of people who represent, you know, your…your organizational body as a…as a whole.
Can you give some examples of mistakes that you’ve seen made during change implementations that our listeners will want to avoid?
Yes, absolutely, absolutely. So what I’ve noticed, Susan and JoDee, is really making sure that you have the right OCM resources in place on the initiative. A lot of folks really, I think, downplay the importance of OCM, and so they might tend to think that, “Oh, you know, Sally can do this, she’s nice and she’s she’s good with people. She can do this.” Well, certainly being good with people is a component, but you need to be collaborative, you need to make sure you have strong communicators who are able to multitask, there needs to be a high level of integrity and trust in the folks who play that OCM role. Maybe they need to be persuasive and adept at building coalitions. So having someone who may have been, you know, in the organization for a long time, that has its advantages, because they will know people, but there needs to be, you know, really that array of skill sets. So, you know, OCM, I guess is…the message is, not to be taken lightly. It really…it really is a refined skill set, and really good thought needs to be put into who’s on your OCM team. Also, not starting soon enough. I’ve found that to be, you know, a real potential inhibitor, and then…you know, so you want to be…you want to start as early as possible, and you want to communicate often and throughout. And then unsupportive staff who are in the role of sponsors. You want to make sure that your sponsors truly do walk the talk and support the change.
So with all of that to remember and be on top of, is there a secret sauce to this, to executing change?
I would say that there are some key things to keep in mind. I guess there’s really no…no…no magic bullet, but I think it’s a discipline. So, you know, I think I’ve kind of brought home the point, really having that clear vision, that well-articulated, clear vision that spells out the what and the why. And then that active and visible sponsorship, executive and frontline, and making sure that you’re engaging them throughout the project lifecycle, having a well-informed and supportive change network. Timely and authentic and creative messaging communications is key. You know, they say the message isn’t even…it doesn’t resonate until it’s communicated at least six times. There’s a lot of truth to that. And an OCM team and a project team that work interdependently. Now, what do I mean by that? When you look at a project team, basically they’re dealing with the technical side of the change. Ultimately, their goal is to design, to develop, and deliver, you know, whatever that change event is. On the OCM side, we’re dealing with the people impacts of it, and we know that’s never easy. Our goal is there is to embrace…make sure people are embracing, adopting, and using that change. So you want to make sure that those two facets of the project are working together, working interdependently, to make sure that the widgets and the, you know, the specifics are being taken care of and the people are coming along for the ride.
Is there any technology platform that you are a fan of? I know you’ve worked with different businesses of all different sizes, but, like, is Microsoft Project, or is there any…. For somebody who’s just getting ready to lead the first major change initiative in the organization, is there any resources or tools out there that you would suggest they take a look at?
I think that, in terms of OCM, I think that aligning yourself with a good project methodology – there are, you know, a number of them out there, so I’m not going to really advocate any one or the other – but just kind of doing the research to look at what methodology and what kind of framework might work for you and your culture would be important. In terms of tools, I have, you know, just for the project overall, I do think that Project is a good tool to help keep you organized, and you’re able to really scope out your work plans and so forth among those work streams of communications, training, and change readiness. So, yeah, I would…I am a proponent of Project.
Is there any other advice that you think our listeners need to know?
Yeah, sure. So really, just the importance of demonstrating support for your change initiatives through your words and actions, just making sure that everyone who’s involved on the project really does walk the talk, making sure that the team that you put in place to carry forth the message, making sure those folks really are coalition builders and that people want to follow them.
That’s great advice, Delia. And how can our listeners reach out to you if they’re interested in working with your organization, D. Mallory Enterprises.
So JoDee and Susan, I would love to hear from your listeners, and I can be found on LinkedIn, that’s probably the easiest way and certainly the the way that all professionals are communicating these days. Would love to hear from you.
And we’ll have a link to your LinkedIn in our podcast show notes.
Thank you so much for coming today, Delia. Very helpful.
Thanks again. Take care now.
Gartner for HR published a paper in 2019 written by Marcus Chiu and Heather Salerno entitled, “Changing Change Management.” They explained that, historically, 80% of companies manage change from the top down, and 66% of Chief HR Officers were dissatisfied with the speed of change implementation.
In a survey they did with over 6,000 employees and over 100 CHROs worldwide, they found more companies are moving away from the top down change management and attempting to create more inclusive strategies. The three keys to what they call an “open source approach” to change relies on three factors.
Number one, leaders engage the workforce to co-create change strategy.
Number two, employees are responsible for planning how to implement the change.
And finally, number three, communication encouraged open conversation about the change. They say focus communication on talking, not telling. Results, they report, by making the shift to this open source approach include increases change success from 34% to 58%.
The implementation time can decrease by 33%.
Wow. And employee engagement can increase by 38%.
And the intent to stay can increase by 46%.
Huge. Susan, we have a listener question today that came from a listener who completed a SHRM credit evaluation on a previous episode, and they asked “What is a normal bereavement policy?”
There is no US federal law that provides time off, paid or unpaid, for bereavement – meaning, of course, if you lose a loved one – but giving time off to mourn after someone does lose a loved one, I think, is really important to do. But it’s completely at that employers discretion. The most common amount of time that I have seen anybody give is usually three to five days. Now, there’s some exceptions there. I don’t know about you, JoDee. Have you seen a differing amount?
No, I’d say that three to five is very common. Unfortunately, a lot of threes, even.
Yeah, or I’ve heard of ones, I’ve heard of none. So yeah, the other thing that I’ve seen vary by organization is how they define who was a loved one that would actually trigger getting time off. So the most common definition that I’ve seen of the relationships of people who would, if they passed, would qualify an employee for taking time off are parents, in-laws, children, siblings, spouse, if unmarried their domestic partner, a guardian, or grandparent. Although I’ve seen, you know, for pets, I’ve seen that as a very legitimate one, because, my gosh, a lot of people’s pets are like their kids. And so, you know, I…if you’re an employee and you have a loss of someone that’s really causing you grief, I think it’s worth talking to your employer about it. And if you’re an employer, I would say to you that I would really think about how do I make it as expansive as I can, because when somebody is grieving, it’s awfully difficult to focus on their jobs. So good luck.
JoDee, it’s time for in the news. At the time of this recording, the US minimum wage remains at $7.25 an hour for non-tipped staff and $2.13 for tipped employees. Although the idea of raising the minimum wage nationally has been coming up time and time, really, since 2009, when $7.25 went in as the minimum wage. I do think it’s important for all of us, whether you are an HR professional or a business leader listening to the podcast, to remember to stay vigilant on the state and local minimum wage laws for employees that you have working outside of your home state, because it can vary. There’s currently 30 states and the District of Columbia that have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage, and in those locations, many of them increased in 2021, and some have approved stairstep increases either six months from now, a year from now, or several years from now. So it is not for the weak of spirit. You’ve got to really be vigilant, stay on top of it. It’s why if you don’t do your own payroll, sometimes you’re in better shape, because you have that outside vendor who, you know, has a team of people watching it all the time. But if you are running your own payroll, and you’re not at a size where you’ve got a lot of extra resources, this should be something that’s really top of mind for you.
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