The Other Kind of Change: It’s Coming! Scared Yet?!

Shelley F. Hall, Author, Brick Wall Breakthrough – What The @#$% Do I Do Next? Actions for Exceptional Sales and Service

The Other Kind of Change: It’s Coming! Scared Yet?!

There are very few things that scare us more than change. When the doctor says “exercise more,” we respond with a list of reasons why we don’t have the time. When it’s time to install new or upgraded software, your end users are quick to scream about lost productivity while learning it. Change is necessary, but it’s a monster at the door, instilling fear, panic, and resistance – just ask my colleagues how I responded to Windows 8!

Change is serious business; as leaders, you must prepare your company for the inevitable. Before beginning any change initiative, your company must first assess its readiness. Knowing how well the company will respond to the change gives learning leaders an advance understanding of the unique roadblocks before them and allows them to plan a strategy to keep moving forward.

A readiness assessment should uncover:

  •  Gaps between management’s and employees’ perceptions about the company’s culture
  •  Gaps between the stated vision and values of the organization and how business is executed
  •  Gaps between the current culture and the desired elements of the new culture
  •  Degree of flexibility, adaptability, and innovation within the organization

Many organizational elements should be examined in a readiness assessment:

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

- Charles Darwin

The road to successful change must begin with a clear understanding of where the company is going and how you’ll know when it’s gotten there. KPIs must be established in three areas:

1. Performance: which includes productivity, efficiency, and internal and external customer satisfaction

2. Culture: which refers to organizational behavior, values, and decisions

3. Fiscal: which relates to profitability, cost reduction, and market position

Each company’s ultimate change goal will determine these KPIs and provide the tactical road map needed to take action and evaluate interim progress.

Risk Tolerance. Change involves risk. Up and down the organization, trust must be present if employees are going to take risks — not wild, poorly-conceived risks, but the calculated risks necessary to implement change.

Therefore, a company’s willingness to allow risk-taking — and at times, failure — is one of the most important indicators of its change readiness. How does the company view risk? How does it manage risk? What levels of risk are acceptable? Is an entrepreneurial spirit rewarded?

Decision-Making. All decisions, big and small, become the drivers of change. When change initiatives fail, it’s often due to the fear of making a mistake, which leads to poor, and slow, decision-making.

Therefore, examining how decisions are made is vitally important. Company executives should ask: are decisions made quickly after fact finding and evaluation, or does it take longer for someone to make a decision and take action? Do the various management teams listen to a variety of opinions, or do they go to the “anointed few” for input? Is there a clear decision-making process?

Organizational Structure. Companies with very strong and delineated hierarchies were often built upon the belief that people need close supervision in order to get them to produce. Micromanagement is the norm. However, effective change initiatives require independent decision-making and behavior. Change that is forced on people is never fully adopted, and resistance becomes a huge challenge. If employees feel they can’t make a move without approval, the organization will find change extremely difficult – if not impossible – to achieve.

Flexibility and Innovation. Flexibility and innovation are closely tied to risk. Leaders should ask themselves: “How often does my company attempt new things? Are new products introduced regularly? Are policies and procedures evaluated regularly to insure customer satisfaction? Is customer input solicited and is action taken based on those results? Do the employees implement new ideas on a consistent basis? Are employees allowed or encouraged to make decisions and solve problems within their own departments?”

The most innovative companies have experienced failure. They assessed the risk and took the chance – in some instances because doing nothing is riskier. Apple, Facebook, and Google are just a few examples of companies that understood “nothing ventured nothing gained.”

Change History. Past achievements can be indicators of future success. Has the company implemented some form of change within the last five years? Was it successful? What was learned from that experience? Was a change readiness assessment completed before the change initiative? What failures has the company experienced in the last five years and how can the company mitigate a failure mentality?

You can’t change your past history, but the axiom that those who “fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is absolutely true when attempting organizational change. Learn from your past mistakes and build a better outcome this time around.

Processes and Function. Major change often requires redesigning processes, functions, and roles. Are the managers in the affected area open to change? Are they supportive of the change? Is turf building and protection an issue? Do departments willingly collaborate and see themselves as interdependent? Are departments mired in paperwork that will work against change?

When a process change is the goal, it is wise to include those who manage or depend upon the process in the evaluation and solution. Don’t forget your customers in process change. Process that may seem only internally-focused almost always have a way of touching the customer.

Communication. Communication before, during, and after change is critical to the success of a change initiative. Leaders must honestly assess both formal and informal communication structures within the organization. Is communication a two-way street with honest dialogue? Or is gossip rampant and destructive? Are trusted communicators maximized for the dissemination of information? Is communication direct or received only through managers? How frequently does senior management communicate with and listen to the rank and file?

Gaps in information give rise to fear and gossip that will doom any change initiative. Success depends upon everyone receiving all the information and at the same time. When one department hears about the change before another, you handcuff yourself by creating division when unison is the goal.

Competitive Awareness. Change in a vacuum is difficult. Do key people in the company stay informed about the industry? Do they track trends and see the impact on business? Are they knowledgeable about the competition and their position in the market?

The more employees know about the industry, the more they will understand the need for change and the benefits that change will deliver.

Rewards. A company’s reward structure drives behavior. Are employees rewarded for new ideas, for taking risks, and for making independent decisions? Or are they “slapped” for taking action without multiple approvals?

The behavior you reward is the behavior you’ll see — so make sure you reward the underlying actions that will support your change initiative.

About the Author

Shelley F. Hall, author of Brick Wall Breakthrough – What The @#$% Do I Do Next? Actions for Exceptional Sales and Service (Page Court Press), is a highly successful entrepreneur and corporate fugitive who has built, reinvented and turned-around numerous companies. Shelley is Principal, Managing Director of Catalytic Management LLC, a leading management consulting firm delivering consulting and training that accelerates business growth through improved sales, service and process improvement and she is considered a leading expert in the field of "customer-focused management." As a thought leader, Shelley writes frequently for major business journals such as Business Performance Management Magazine,, The Handbook of Business Strategy, Women's Business, ManageSmarter and Sales and Service Excellence, Chief Learning Officer and is a sought after business advisor and speaker. Website: